The School Meals Service Recipe Book

My mother-in-law was a wonderful cook, and probably was before she worked for the school meals service in Surrey; she was in charge and I have inherited her fifty year-old recipe book. It has no fol-de-rols or faff, it goes straight in with an index of the different sections and then the recipes themselves (‘all quantities are for 100 senior portions unless otherwise stated’). At the back of the book is an index of the recipes themselves. I know lots of people had a bad experience of school meals, but for the most part I enjoyed mine (apart from an unfortunate experience with blancmange when I was about six and had to stay for school lunch because my mum was ill).

Here is the front index:

  • meat
  • savoury dishes
  • vegetables and salad
  • pulse
  • frying
  • fish
  • pastry
  • puddings
  • biscuits and meringues
  • yeast mixtures
  • dried milk and milk puddings
  • gravy, sauces and stuffings
  • fruit


  •  fish
  • meat
  • savoury  dishes
  • puddings
  • pastry
  • biscuits
  • miscellaneous

The very next page after the index is ‘meat dishes’, no introduction, straight into methods of cooking, roasting, boiling and steaming, stewing, braising and frying. The first part of this section is to do with roasting; these days in a kitchen in the meat section chicken would probably be  top of the list, cheap, easy to cook, easy to eat, no waste. Fifty years ago, chicken doesn’t appear anywhere, far too expensive for school dinners, so the meat on offer is mutton, lamb, beef, pork and veal, and cooks are instructed to allow twenty pounds of boneless meat for one hundred portions (twenty-five if it’s on the bone)

  1. wipe meat, scrape fat if necessary. Cut beef into suitable size joints
  2. if carving by machine, bone, roll and shape
  3. place in baking tins with hot dripping
  4. put in hot oven to prevent the escape of juices
  5. after 15 mins reduce the heat to prevent over-hardening of the surface and to cook the meat right through to the centre
  6. continue cooking slowly, basting at half hourly intervals to
    • Keep the meat moist
    • Prevent charring of the outside
    • Prevent undue shrinkage
    • Improve the flavour
  7. when turning or removing from the pan always use wooden spoons or fish slice. This avoids piercing the surface and so prevents the loss of meat juices and flavour
  8. allow for beef, mutton and lamb 20 mins per lb and 20 mins over, veal and pork 25 mins per lb and 25 mins over
  9. rest all joints for 30 mins before carving and portioning

Carving and Portioning
Trim all meat and remove all fat and gristle. Infants meals should be cut into slices and then into smaller pieces. if trimmings are used, care should be taken to see than no gristle, fat or over-baked chunky meat is included. Weigh the cut-up mea and allow 1½ oz per head.
place the slices of meat in baking tins in piles of ten portions or in eight portions per Family Service dishes. Place lids on the tins and keep hot.

These instructions seem to me careful, considerate and economical, trying to produce decent, healthy meals for children, for some of whom this would be their only meal of the day… yes, I know it’s Surrey but there was and probably still is a lot of rural poverty.

By the way, the photo isn’t from a Surrey School but the one I went to in Cambridge, Milton Road Junior School.


  1. Don Bowen

    I have nothing but praise for “school dinners” having had them in three schools in Yorkshire/Nottinghamshire. I thought they were excellent….particularly the ones that were cooked on the premises. Not as good were the ones that were cooked at a central location in Worksop, Notts. then distributed to each school.
    Before coming to Australia our two oldest children enjoyed the meals except our daughter Nicola who objected to being “forced” to eat custard!


    1. Lois

      yes the ‘forcing to eat’ was a trial for some children -my sister had definitely likes and dislikes, I think she would have been a vegetarian if they had such things in those days! The ‘blancmange incident’ I referred to was when I had to sit all afternoon with a plate of blancmange which I wouldn’t eat… and usually I was an omnivorous and unfussy child.


      1. Lois

        For many children they were introduced to food they would never have seen at home giving them a balanced diet – at least during their days at school!


      1. Don Bowen

        Yes, I meant to ask about cheese pie. I don’t recall ever eating it but I probably did without knowing what it was. Not sure I would go for it now though!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Lois

        As fas as I remember it was just pastry with cheese and potato in it… just remember it being delicious… very fattening no doubt as the pastry would have been made with lard!


      3. Don Bowen

        I’ll give it a go Lois…I need building up a bit!!! Still don’t recall seeing it as a child. Must be a Southern dish!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.