Catering team ‘steps up to the plate’ with 500,000 meals for Oxfordshire pupils

School children in Oxfordshire have eaten over half-a-million meals, prepared by the county council’s catering team during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Oxfordshire County Council Catering Services’ (OCCCS) 150-strong team has introduced a range of healthy menus, adapting its service and also delivering over 1,000 free school meal food parcels during the last year.

Gail Witchell, Catering Services Lead for Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Our staff have ‘stepped up to the plate’, rising to the challenge of working under pandemic restrictions, working through school holidays, and finding new and imaginative ways to provide both hot and cold offers that fit with each school’s arrangements. We have even provided lunches for schools not within our service, where they had been unable to source meals through their normal provider.”

None of Gail’s staff have been furloughed. A few of the team were redeployed elsewhere within the council for short periods. Others helped out in unfamiliar kitchens or took on new and additional duties to ensure the catering service was uninterrupted.

The catering team ensured that nutritious lunches were available for every child who was entitled to or wished to partake in school lunches across all 60 Oxfordshire schools it serves.

Gail added: “As a service, we are passionate about providing healthy nutritious meals, and have created new menus designed specifically to meet the need of boxed meals - obviously in environmentally friendly packaging. They meet required school food standards’ legislation and are served in classrooms.”

Newly built The Swan School in Oxford is the latest venue to benefit from the team’s culinary expertise. A recent event was hosted for around 100 parents, who toured the building and were then given an opportunity to taste and discuss the food their children will choose from. Samples included dishes from the current menu as well as three items from a new menu to be launched in September.

The Swan School lunches are served ‘family service’ style and consist of a two-course vegetarian offer.

Oxfordshire County Council has been providing school meals for pupils in Oxfordshire for over 70 years. In 2018, the service was returned to an in-house operation following the collapse of Carillion. The service now operates in 60 schools, serving over a million meals a year.