4 ways you can immediately make lunchtimes better (Part 3 of 4)

Posted by Paul Aagaard · 4 min read · 7 comments

This third blog, in my 4-part series, focuses on how to create a restaurant style dining room that motivates children to eat together and eat better.


Most schools run a continuous service where children are called into the dining room as and when there is space. This creates a very rushed and noisy environment. Supervisors spend most of their time managing the constant ebb and flow of children coming into and out of the dining room and can’t properly engage. Long queues, not being able to sit with your friends and your friends not waiting for you to finish creates a food on the go style culture. This is likely to create a large cohort of children who just throw all their food away. The dining hall should look and feel like a restaurant so children are motivated to eat together, eat better and enjoy socialising.

Creating a restaurant style dining room is based on the following evidence based best practice principles which Recipe for Change have introduced to many school all over the country.

Friendship groups

In the classroom, furniture is arranged to provide an environment conducive to on-task behaviour. This always includes a seating plan so children know who they are sitting with and where. The dining room environment should be conducive to on-task behaviour too – i.e. eating and socialising. It makes sense to replicate this important classroom discipline into the dining room. Like the classroom, children sit in agreed friendship groups so they know who they are sitting with, where and at what time. Here are the benefits of doing this. Firstly, Supervisors don’t have to worry about seating children so that helps them engage with the social curriculum. Secondly, it reduces food waste because if any table is messy Supervisors know which children to target. Thirdly, because the same children are sitting at the same table in the same place each day Supervisors can easily run reward programmes for the best table of the week. Fourthly, SEN children who thrive on routine enjoy this system because they know who they are sitting with and where.

Extended/staggered lunchtime

If a school’s lunch break is no more than one hour, the dining hall can’t accommodate a large group of children at any one time and there are hundreds of children to get fed and watered it’s always going to feel rushed. The solution is to extend lunchtimes and split the children into at least two groups so one group will have lunch earlier whilst the other group stays in class. This means schools will have to make extensive changes to their academic day. Although it can be disruptive and sometimes challenging, the benefits of staffing less children at any one time and creating an inclusive and nurturing environment in the dining room is enough of a motivator for school leaders to make this whole school change.

Pupil advocates

Children take on the responsibility of washing, wiping and cleaning. Most children, even infants, are perfectly capable, with a little bit of training and support, to wipe tables and sweep floors. Many children are eager to help and enjoy taking on this responsibility. Some schools invite pupils to become waiters and waitresses on a voluntary basis. Others ask children to be table monitors on a rota basis to clear away all the dirty plates on their table. Here are the benefits of this important best practice principle. There is less waste so dining hall floors just need a quick spot mop rather than mopping the entire floor. Only table monitors or waiter/waitresses visit the waste station so it significantly reduces the queue. It supports character education and teaches children about team work, volunteering and respect.


We helped Pebsham Primary Academy launch a new restaurant style dining room service. “Our Dine and Shine Restaurant is a calm, social place to eat” said the Headteacher, Rachel Martin. “Children all have adequate time to eat and socialise. Reluctant and slower eaters are catered for and are not rushed. The children are clear about the procedures and there have been noticeable improvements in the quality of conversation, behaviour and social skills”. Here are more details about our work at Pebsham Primary Academy

At Heathrow Primary we extended lunchtime from one to two hours so children had enough time to eat. Although this whole school change meant re scheduling PPA time, Supervisor shifts and catering staff working patterns it created an environment that's conducive to both socialising and eating. "Our food waste has gone down from 5 bags of rubbish to 2 bags at the end of each sitting" said the Headteacher, Simon Giles. "Behaviour incidents have gone down drastically at lunchtime and children are much calmer and ready to learn when they come back in from lunchtime". Here are more details about our work at Heathrow Primary

If your school is facing any of these common dining room problems, please get in touch with us at Recipe for Change. Our lunchtime Improvement programme includes positive behaviour training for Midday Supervisors to help them de-escalate incidents. It makes sure the behaviour policy is consistently implemented at lunchtime and ensures children are respectful to Midday Supervisors. Based on the training, we write action plans to improve provision in both the dining room and playground, run whole school consultations and help introduce all the agreed changes that’ll make lunchtimes much better.

For more information, please email info@recipeforchange.co.uk

Paul Aagaard

Paul is a social entrepreneur who is passionate about improving safety and behaviour in schools by transforming lunchtimes. Working in partnership with caterers and local authorities to develop lunchtime improvement programmes, he helps schools ensure that children want to eat better, eat together, engage in good conversation and be more active.

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