Catering for dietary requirements

Get as many visitors and volunteers as you can on board by making sure everyone can be fed at your events

Selling refreshments is a huge part of any PTA event, whether it’s tea and cake at a coffee morning or a barbecue at the summer fair. Because it’s so integral, it’s important to recognise the different dietary requirements there may be in your school community and put measures in place to ensure everyone can be fed at your events.

It’s no fun having to bring your own food to a PTA event. Commercially, there’s been a huge increase in products which cater to different diets in recent years, making it easier than ever to ensure no one goes hungry. Special dietary requirements can mean anything from following a vegetarian diet to having a dangerous food allergy or abstaining from some foods due to religion. This guide will give you an overview of the different requirements people may have and how you can put considerations in place for them.

Food allergies and intolerances

The number of people with allergies has been increasing year on year, with the majority of sufferers being children. This means it’s something PTAs need to be particularly aware of when catering for events.

The most important thing to be aware of when serving food is allergies and intolerances. For some people, the smallest trace of an allergen can cause a reaction, and a sufferer doesn’t always have to consume the substance they’re allergic – in some cases particles in the air can be enough. Check with the school to see which allergies you need to be aware of, and if unsure of what to offer, work with parents to find a solution.

In children, the most common food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, so be wary when serving food which includes these ingredients. Many schools are nut-free to minimise risk, but while you may be experienced with this, other allergens need to be considered too. Ask the school for information on allergies so you can adapt accordingly, and ensure when people book tickets or food there is a way for them to note any allergy information. This could be as simple as including an email address on a ticket so they can send details if needed.

If you’re not confident about catering for people with food allergies as a volunteer, hire an external caterer with experience in food hygiene and cross-contamination risks. For snacks and tuck shop items, wholesalers such as Booker sell items individually labelled with nutritional information and warnings to reassure people that the food is safe for them to eat.

What you can do

If your PTA buys eggs for pupils at Easter, offer a dairy-free chocolate option for children with lactose intolerance or milk allergies. At bake sales, offer at least one gluten and wheat-free option and egg-free option if necessary, and ask for nut-free donations. Ask bakers who are donating cakes for a list of ingredients which you can show to anyone who asks. If receiving donations, request that any known allergens in the school are not included.

Religious reasons

To ensure events are inclusive, it’s important to be aware of different religions and cultures at your school and ensure you’re offering options which comply with people’s lifestyles. Be aware of the breakdown of your school and make conscious choices that will be most inclusive. If unsure, simply ask your community.

For example, a popular offering at a PTA summer fair is a hog roast – be aware that both Islam and Judaism don’t allow the consumption of pork, so if you’re aware that there’s a lot of diversity in your community, consider another option or ensure you offer suitable alternatives. Many Hindus follow a lacto-vegetarian diet, meaning no meat, fish or eggs. See below for advice on catering to vegetarian and vegan diets.

What you can do

Wholesalers such as Booker have individual labels on each item, meaning attendees can easily look for indicators such as halal or kosher.

Dietary choices

While someone who has chosen a diet such as vegetarian or vegan isn’t in danger from being offered the wrong food, you’ll still put people off attending your events if they know there won’t be anything to eat! Always make sure there’s a variety of options. Not only will this be more inclusive, but everyone enjoys more choice – you may find a vegetable chilli goes down well with all.

What you can do

At your tuck shop, offer gelatine-free sweets and dairy-free chocolate. Have non-processed options such as fruit.


Top tips

  • It’s important to be inclusive and aim to offer options that cater for everyone, but make sure people know they are also welcome to bring their own food, should they need to. You may be concerned that this could impact on your profits, but otherwise you could be putting people off attending altogether. Little adaptions like this mean people who wouldn’t normally attend will come and help fundraise and integrate into the community.
  • When offering alternatives, it’s wise to make sure you have a little more than you think you need – giving the meat-eaters a chance to try the vegetarian option if they want to.