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School Meals


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Overview of the service

The School catering Department to the Belfast Education and Library Board employs some 700 staff working in 160 schools across Belfast. Each day we serve between 16,000 and 20,000 meals to children in nursery, primary, special and post primary schools. We also provide a catering service to staff in board headquarters and the Central Library.


We believe the benefits of the service include:

  • Social opportunity to eat with others
  • A freshly prepared hot nutritious meal
  • A local team of staff
  • Value for money
  • Ability to cater for special diets
  • More convenient than preparing a packed lunch

All staff receive training to ensure the highest standards of food safety and food preparation. The catering supervisor is responsible for menu planning so he/she can ensure that they incorporate their customers ‘likes and dislikes as well as considering nutritional balance, cost and variety.

Healthy Eating

We recognise our role in influencing the eating habits of young children whilst in school. A menu that encourages the children to eat the right food will certainly help them to continue a healthy pattern as they grow up. The benefits of healthy eating at school include:

  • Healthy growth and development
  • Better health and less infections
  • Improved concentration
  • Better sports performance
  • Better behaviour

Therefore, it is our long-term aim to develop a ‘Whole Schools Approach’ to healthy eating. School catering is involved in a number of initiatives aimed at promoting a healthier diet, these include:

  • Breakfast clubs
  • Healthy breaks
  • Nutritional standards
  • Water in schools
Nutritional Standards - School Food Tops Marks Programme

Top MarksThis was a joined up government venture by the Dept of Education, Dept of Health & Social services and Health Promotion Agency the Under the  “Top Marks programme” school food initiative. This forms part of the Assembly’s health strategy which is committed to improving children’s health and well being, which was supported by the Minister for Education Catriona Ruane and Minister for Health Michael McGimpsey who were present at the launch. Good nutrition in childhood can help protect against chronic disease in later life, heart diesease, cancer, obesity and dental decay.

Nutritional standards packs, including three key documents have been sent out to all schools and kitchens. The three key documents include:

  1. School food the essential guide [ 1.35MB ]
  2. Nutritional standards for school lunches [ 1.72MB ]
  3. Nutritional standards for other food in schools [ 1.70MB ]

The standards are now compulsory in all of our schools and apply to free and paid lunches, excluding packed lunches brought from home. The essential guide is a toolkit for schools which provides information and advice that encourages them to work through a school based alliance consisting of staff, caterers, pupils and parents supported by health professionals. The document outlines a step by step approach to developing a whole school food policy looking at food and drinks in school, breakfast clubs, tuck shops and vending machines.

Parents can also help by asking for a copy of the school menu. You can then discuss the options available with your child. Children are encouraged to choose the healthier options when they go to the school dining room.

  1. Example of Primary menu [ 129KB ]
  2. example of Post-Primary menu [ 151KB ]

Welcome to “Bite”, the Food in Schools magazine.

Bite Magazine (opens in a new window)Bite has been produced by the Education and Library Boards and the Public Health Agency in conjunction with the Department.

It aims to keep schools up to date with the latest information on what’s happening with school food, resources available and an opportunity to share examples of how a whole school approach can improve the nutrition and wellbeing of pupils and staff.

Bite Magazine [ 5.18MB ]


A Healthy Diet for Children

For children aged 5 and over, a healthy diet broadly means:
A balanced diet with plenty of variety and enough energy for growth and development

  • Plenty of starchy (carbohydrate – containing) foods such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes
  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Moderate amounts of milk products
  • Moderate amounts of meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
  • Not eating too many foods containing a lot of fat – especially saturated fat
  • Not having sugary foods and drinks too often

If for any reason you are unhappy about the standard of service or the quality of your meal then please forward your comments by e-mail it to janet.mcalister@belb.co.uk. We value your comments and for more information about the complaints procedure please refer to the document ‘Our Standards’ on the BELB main web page.

Jobs, temporary vacancies

We can offer a range of temporary vacancies in both school meals kitchens and dining centres. The number of hours and the location will depend on the needs of the service at a particular time. Please browse through our list of vacancies to see if we have one that may be suitable. Permanent posts are advertised in the press however if you are interested in a temporary vacancy or would like to be held on a waiting list for a particular school then forward your details by telephone to the relevant area manager or alternatively you can contact Human Resources via the link for more information on a range of job vacancies throughout the board.

Human Resources- Advertising and Appointments

Catering Newsletter - Team-talk

Our in house bulletin ‘Team-talk’ is published once per term. Team-talk is designed to highlight the good work and achievements within education catering and also keep staff informed and updated on the issues affecting the service.

Select the issue of Catering Team Talk you wish to view from the list below (Adobe Acrobat PDF format) :

  1. Issue 27 [ 5.2MB ]
  2. Issue 28 [ 4MB ]
  3. Issue 29 [ 3MB ]
  4. Issue 30 [ 14MB ]
Most commonly asked questions and answers

Q. What are the prices of school meals?


BELB School Meal Prices


Sept 12





Post Primary





Q. Do you cater for special diets and ethnic groups?


Yes! We can cater for various diets and there are a number of children with food allergies currently taking school meals. If your child has a special dietary need please inform your principal and we can discuss your child’s needs.

Q. What are your procedures for purchasing food?


All 5 Education and Library boards collectively purchase goods from reputable suppliers with each Board taking responsibility for a specific contracts.

Q. Do you provide training?


Yes! All our staff temporary and permanent receive training whenever they start employment. This is known as induction training and covers health and safety issues in terms of skin care, use of equipment, manual handling, and safe use of chemicals and basics of food hygiene. All staff responsible for handling food must complete basic food hygiene training, Level 1 & 2 in Food Safety (Previously known as Foundation in Food Hygiene) within 3 months of starting employment. Other training opportunities exist for further staff development including in house and recognized qualifications and we work in partnership with other training providers.

Q. How often are your kitchens inspected?


All school meals premises are registered with the environmental health department at the Belfast City Council. Environmental health officers inspect our premises regularly and make recommendations where necessary. In addition we maintain regular visits to kitchens throughout the school term and complete an inspection using a standard checklist.

The New Food Hygiene Rating System

Food Hygiene RatingA new food hygiene rating system has been introduced province wide replacing the old Scores on the Doors rating system.This new system is run by localauthorities in England,Wales and Northern Ireland in partnership with the Food Standards Agency.

Each business is given a 'hygiene rating' when it is inspected by a food safety officer from the business's local authority.The hygiene rating shows how closely the business is meeting the requirements of food hygiene law.

Each business is given a 'hygiene rating' when it is inspected by a food safety officer from the business's local authority.The hygiene rating shows how closely the business is meeting the requirements of food hygiene law.

  • How hygienically the food is handled- how it is prepared,cooked, reheated,cooled and stored
  • The condition of the structure of the buildings - the cleanliness,layout,lighting, ventilation and other facilities
  • How the business manages and records what it does to make sure food is safe

At the end of the inspection, the business is given one of the six ratings.The top rating of '5' means that the business was found to have 'very good' hygiene standards. Any business should be able to reach this top rating.

Q. Do you consult with Schools and Principals?


Yes! Feedback from all our users is an important way to gauge how well we are performing. We value the comments from Principals and we would try and involve them as much as possible in any decision making. As part of the inspection process we actively seek to speak with Principals and record their comments for future reference.
The education catering service has recently undergone a best value review. In response to recommendations of the review, school catering has implemented an ongoing consultation process with users to gain an indication of the current level of satisfaction within our service. To facilitate the consultation process we very much depend on all service users to provide valuable feedback. The principal and a sample number of parents and pupils will be surveyed at each school.

Q. How do you promote healthy eating?


School catering is actively involved in promoting healthy eating through partnerships with external agencies and building good relations with school Principals in terms of:

  • Menu planning in line with nutritional standards
  • Tariff structure
  • Links to the whole school approach
  • Breakfast clubs and healthy breaks
  • Health promoting schools

Q. Do you only provide a meal at lunchtime?


No, we also provide meals throughout the day including breakfast, mid-morning break and function catering as requested.

Other information

An association known as The Northern Irelan d School Caterers Association (NISCA) was set up to represent the caterers in education across all 5 education and library boards and its main aim is to be a regional consultative body to the Northern Ireland assembly.

Its objectives are to develop school catering in order to meet the ever changing demands and challenges within the service and to ensure consistent standards of professionalism at all levels. NISCA membership is made up of service providers (School caterers) and suppliers who work in partnership to promote the service and target resources more effectively to meet the needs of service users throughout the province.

Food in Schools Resources page

Report on Free School Meals Pilot in England

Free School Meal pilots show improvements for attainment, diet and fussy eating