Choosing the Right Metal Food Tray for Your School

By Dr. Manasa Mantravadi



Time to Read: 8 min

With everything happening daily in school cafeterias, where hundreds of meals are served multiple times, choosing a food tray might seem like the smallest of details. Yet, this very choice can significantly impact the efficiency, sustainability, and overall dining experience in educational settings. With their durability and ease of cleaning, metal food trays stand out as a practical solution for schools looking to enhance their meal service while upholding environmental and safety standards.

But even once you settle on using metal food trays in the cafeteria, how do you choose the right one? This involves more than just picking out the most durable or cheapest option. You should consider a whole list of criteria, from the quality of the material and safety certifications to environmental considerations and practical design features. Each aspect ensures that the metal food tray serves its purpose effectively. 

Let’s look into the key factors that school administrators and cafeteria managers should consider to make an informed choice, ensuring that their selection not only withstands the rigors of daily use but also contributes positively to the school's meal service goals.

About Ahimsa

Founded by a pediatrician and mom of three

Stainless steel is the only kid-friendly material recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics 

We are guided by a Scientific Advisory Council comprised of environmental and medical experts, guiding us in creating the safest products, following the latest science and promoting policy to protect human health and our planet

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Material Quality and Durability: The Foundation of a Good Metal Food Tray

When it comes to choosing a metal food tray, the material's quality isn't just a detail—it's the foundation. High-grade stainless steel, specifically grade 304, 18/8, is the gold standard for food service for several reasons. This material doesn’t just give the trays a sleek, professional look. It also ensures they can handle the daily demands of a busy cafeteria without failing.

Grade 304 stainless steel is renowned for its corrosion resistance, making it ideal for the wear and tear of daily washes and constant use. This durability means trays won't last just a year or two. These trays are built to last for decades, potentially outliving many of the appliances in your kitchen. 18/8 stainless steel is made up of 18% chromium and 8% nickel, a composition that enhances the material's durability and food safety, ensuring no harmful substances leach into the food.

But durability isn't just about withstanding physical stress, but also about maintaining hygiene. Stainless steel's non-porous surface prevents bacteria and viruses from embedding themselves, a crucial feature in environments where children's health is the top priority. Easy to clean and disinfect, these trays ensure that cleanliness is as much a part of the meal service as the food itself.

When you select a metal food tray, prioritizing material quality and durability doesn't just reflect a commitment to longevity. It can also be a statement of dedication to the health and safety of students. By choosing trays made from high-quality stainless steel, schools invest in a solution that supports their nutritional goals and upholds the highest hygiene and safety standards.

Safety Standards and Certifications: Ensuring Metal Food Tray Integrity

The safety of the utensils and trays touching students' food is highly important. Parents trust you every day with the understanding that their children will be safe. That's why when choosing metal food trays, it’s essential that they meet strict safety standards and hold reputable certifications. These certifications are not just badges of honor; they are assurances that the trays are devoid of harmful substances, making them a safe choice for daily use.

One way to do this is to look for the GreenScreen Certified seal when selecting metal food trays. This certification is a testament to a product's safety, indicating it has passed extensive testing for chemical exposure risks. It's especially important in settings with young children, ensuring that the trays they use daily are free from PFAS and other dangerous chemicals.

Paying attention to, and selecting metal trays that meet, these certifications underlines a school's commitment to safeguarding its students' health. It sends a strong message to parents and the school community that student safety is taken seriously, with measures in place to prevent exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Prioritizing metal food trays with recognized safety certifications is a significant step towards ensuring the health and safety of students.

Green Dining: Selecting Metal Food Trays with the Planet in Mind

Picking a metal food tray isn’t just about picking a tray that stands up to the daily lunch rush. It's also about making a conscious decision that reflects a commitment to environmental stewardship. Choosing to use a reusable metal tray over disposable options is a clear step towards reducing waste and promoting sustainability within school cafeterias.

High-quality stainless steel trays embody the essence of durability and reusability, key factors in minimizing the environmental footprint of school dining services. These trays are designed to last for years, and they drastically cut down on the need for single-use alternatives, aligning with eco-friendly goals and fostering a culture of sustainability among students.

Schools should also look for trays from suppliers who value eco-conscious manufacturing processes, which further enhances the positive environmental impact. Doing so ensures that the trays' production contributes to a cycle of sustainability, from creation to daily use.

Choosing metal food trays isn’t just about practicality. It’s also about making a statement: they're invested in the well-being of both their students and the planet. This decision not only aids in waste reduction but also serves as a practical lesson in sustainability, showing students the importance of thoughtful, environmentally responsible choices.

Practicality Meets Purpose: Choosing the Ideal Metal Food Tray

When it comes to selecting the perfect metal food tray for your school, practical considerations are just as important as the tray's environmental and safety credentials. The right tray should not only align with your sustainability goals but also, and most importantly to everyone from your cafeteria workers to the students themselves, fit seamlessly into the daily routines of your school cafeteria. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Size and Weight

The dimensions and weight of the tray matter. It must be large enough to accommodate a balanced meal but light enough for students of all ages to handle it comfortably. Consider the layout of your cafeteria and how these trays will stack and store, ensuring they complement rather than complicate your space.

Compartment Design

Many metal food trays come with built-in compartments, which are ideal for portion control and separating different types of food. This can reduce food waste and encourage students to try a variety of foods. Look for a design that suits the typical meals served at your school, enhancing both presentation and practicality.

Ease of Cleaning

In the fast-paced environment of a school cafeteria, ease of cleaning is a non-negotiable. Durable, stainless steel trays are resistant to rust and corrosion and simple to wash and sanitize. Opt for trays that can withstand the rigors of daily washing, whether by hand or in a commercial dishwasher.

By paying attention to these practical aspects, schools can ensure they choose metal food trays that meet their ethical and environmental standards and operational needs. The ideal tray supports students' health and well-being, facilitates efficient meal service, and stands the test of time.

The Smart Selection

Choosing the right metal food tray is a multifaceted decision that impacts more than just mealtime. It's about selecting a tray that ensures student safety, supports environmental goals, and integrates smoothly into school routines. This careful selection process reflects a school's dedication to fostering a healthy, sustainable, and operationally sound dining environment.

Ultimately, the choice of metal food trays symbolizes a school's broader commitment to nurturing its students' well-being and environmental consciousness.

Shop Ahimsa Schools today for trays, plates, and more.

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi is a board-certified pediatrician whose dedication to children’s health drove her to launch Ahimsa, the world's first colorful stainless steel dishes for kids. She was motivated by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ findings on harmful chemicals in plastic affecting children's well-being. Ahimsa has gained widespread recognition and been featured in media outlets such as Parents Magazine, the Today Show, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Dr. Mantravadi received the esteemed “Physician Mentor of the Year” award at Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019. She was also named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur in 2021, with her inspiring story showcased on Good Morning America. She serves on the Council for Environmental Health and Climate Change and the Council for School Health at The American Academy of Pediatrics. She represents Ahimsa as a U.S. industry stakeholder on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Global Plastics Treaty, led by the United Nations Environment Program. Dr. Mantravadi leads Ahimsa's social impact program, The Conscious Cafeteria Project, to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard student health as part of a national pilot of the Clinton Global Initiative.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly choices at mealtime. Her mission remains to advocate for the health of all children and the one planet we will leave behind for them through real policy change within our food system.

Home Mealtime Essentials

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use stainless steel instead of plastic? Is stainless steel better for health?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in July 2018 suggesting ways that families can limit exposure to certain chemicals at mealtime, including “the use of alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” The report explained that “…some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard”. Further, “Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.” While stainless steel items meet the recommendation to avoid plastic products in children, Ahimsa® products have the obvious advantage of not breaking like glass.

Is stainless steel better for the environment than plastic?

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel can be recycled over and over and over again without losing its integrity and requires less energy to recycle than to make anew. Most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfills and it is estimated to take 700 years to decompose. Our special coloring process that allows Ahimsa® products to be fully metal is environmentally friendly, so it does not produce toxic run-off into the ecosystem.

Will Ahimsa products break or peel?

No. Our steel is durable, so it won’t break or shatter with everyday use, like glass. And it won’t peel, like other colored stainless steel products you’ve seen. We use a special process that allows the colors to naturally occur in the metal.

Which Ahimsa products are best for my little one(s)?

Our products are meant to last, you can use Ahimsa at ages 1, 8 and 18! We thoughtfully design our products to be safe for little ones and our planet while reducing consumption. Once your child outgrows the Starting Solids Set  and can use regular cups and utensils, the training cup is the perfect size rinse cup in the bathroom, the infant spoon doubles as a tea stirrer and the bowl is great for snacks or as an additional compartment to our modular divided plate. Our plates are great for any age as they encourage choosing a variety of healthy foods at each meal and help visualize portion sizes easily. It’s the lasting beauty of stainless steel - grows with your child and reduces waste.

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