School Lunches, Menu Options, and the Future of BSM Food

School Lunches, Menu Options, and the Future of BSM Food
  • 2023-24

As part of my training to be a Principal, I was told that – no matter what the school – every Head will always face three issues: lunches, lockers, and uniforms.

These three topics are the most complained about in any school, and speaking to my colleagues both in the UK and internationally – I can verify this is absolutely true.

I was also told in my training that, if there is a lot of noise about these issues, then at least the Principal can feel consoled that the concern is not directed at more fundamental things such as teaching and learning, exam results, university destinations.

I have not written a blog about food before – other than a small foray into the origins of spaghetti. I risk it now in my last term leading the school.

Food conversation dominates in Italy in the same way that conversations about the weather hold sway in the UK.

I remember my Italian Duolingo lessons, in which there seemed to be a disproportionate focus on the vocabulary relating to food.

But we all have experience of school lunches from when we were young.

I went to school in Manchester in the 1970s and early ‘80s. The food was pretty terrible. Lumpy mash potato. Spam fritters (don’t ask). Soggy, overboiled cabbage. Grey meat. And the ever-present semolina – a kind of rice pudding that looked like frogspawn – adorned with a blob of red jam.

Not the kind of menu that you ever see represented on Masterchef!



The meals were served from vast steel cylinders, the contents stirred with a long metal spoon, and then scooped out and plopped unceremoniously into a bowl. The soup was a scalding watery gloop, with a thin film of grease making small rainbows on the top.

I can testify that the meals here at The British School of Milan are much better than the ones I experienced as a child at school.

These days, eating disorders are sadly more prevalent in society. But one of the things you notice straightaway when you come to Milan is the relative lack of obesity when compared to the UK.

I’m not sure why that is, given the high carbohydrate and calorific content of staples such as pasta, pizza and tiramisu.

It is probably due to a combination of smaller portions, fresher ingredients, less snacking between meals, and perhaps the pressure to display a slim figure on the beach in summer.

Food matters in Italy, I know.

It was disappointing, but not surprising, to see that half of the comments in the last Parent Survey related to school lunches. This is, as I said, typical of schools around the world.

It is clear that without a proper kitchen in which to prepare and cook, and with the facility only to reheat food, the lunches will not be top quality. We hope the new building, with its fully equipped kitchen, will solve this issue.



The Regione Lombardia also has strict rules about the ingredients of food, removing any risk of allergy, leaving the food safe to eat but also rather bland and tasteless.

When the Lunch Group of parents come to taste the food, they usually report that the meals are good. It could always be better, of course, but I hope I don’t misrepresent them when I say they are often pleasantly surprised at the reasonable quality of the lunches served.

The vast majority of complaints come from parents who have never tasted the food. Their views are represented indirectly by the children.

Excluding Years 12 and 13 who mostly eat outside the school, about one third of our students take school lunches each weekday.

Of course, in comparing the food to that prepared at home by Mama, children are likely to deliver an unfavourable verdict on school lunches. They may also prefer a packed lunch, with home-made food, transported in one of the designer canisters that swing through the gate in the morning.

I take the school lunch every day in the Dining Hall. I feel it is right that I should. I often sit with the students as they eat. Not once in nine years has a student complained to me about the food. They often articulate their dislike of other things, so it’s not that they don’t feel able to complain to me – especially the younger pupils. And I do ask.

It is true, the food could be hotter on occasions, and the vegetables are often over-cooked, but there is almost always something edible and reasonably tasty on the menu. And fresh fruit is available every day.

If there is one thing I miss in Italy, it is the variety of international food I was used to in England, where I would regularly eat Lebanese, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Thai, Vietnamese meals. Neither the number nor the quality of international restaurants here matches that in the UK. (Yes, probably because English food is so terrible; we prefer to eat other cuisines!)

Every year at the Summer Aperitivo, I look forward to sampling the international food prepared by families from parents representing countries all over the world. It’s always delicious.

It reminds me of one of my favourite places in London, Charlotte Street – very close to where I used to work. There you can find a restaurant serving food from almost every corner of the globe. Our Summer Aperitivo replicates in miniature this experience.

Of course, because I was born and brought up in England, many parents will automatically disqualify anything I say regarding food. (I will not, therefore, point out that there are 80 Michelin star restaurants in London, compared to 18 in Milan – a higher number even accounting for the size of the population).

But on food, I know, I will never win an argument here.

Stlll, as a school we continue to triangulate the conversation on food, including the Friends’ Lunch Group, our suppliers Pellegrini, and our Food Quality Coordinator, Miss Piccolo. And we plan soon to conduct a student survey of the food.  

Together, we will be looking to share more information about the provenance of the food items, to introduce more diverse menu options in line with Lombardia guidelines, and seeking to establish a fair balance between the quality and cost of the food.

I don’t expect to see 5* ratings for the food in my remaining time here as Principal, nor do I expect such ratings for the provision of lockers or the uniform.

But I do harbour hopes that in the months and years ahead something magical might happen – that students will return home reporting the school food as tasty, nutritious, varied, as well as warm...and at this point I usually wake up.

Chris Greenhalgh
Principal and CEO

  • Culture
  • School Values