School kitchens are different from your standard commercial restaurant kitchen. Specific supplies are needed to serve multiple meals a day to large groups of students, all the while keeping their vulnerable immune systems and food sensitivities top of mind. While a school only operates in certain months of the year, the cafeteria needs to be well prepared for high volume cooking and serving during these months.

What Supplies Do School Kitchens Need? 

A school kitchen can be demanding on resources. As a result, it can be challenging to prepare for adequately and estimate supply use for a school year. This article is intended to give you a starting checklist for buying kitchen supplies for your school kitchen.


Disposable items are essential to school kitchens throughout the school year. From to-go containers and foam trays for no-dish days to straws and napkins, it’s important to stock up early.

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Trays and Dinnerware 

Everybody that eats in your cafeteria will need something to eat on! Therefore, you’ll need to invest in a quality material like melamine for cafeteria trays and plates for a virtually unbreakable option.

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Why Melamine? Several types of hard plastics are useful in a cafeteria. Melamine is an excellent choice because it’s virtually unbreakable, dishwasher safe, and fast-drying. If you’re researching the best product choice for your cafeteria, check out this article on construction material of dinnerware in our resource center.

Food Storage

With limited budgets, it’s crucial to store ingredients and foods to prevent waste properly. Proper storage can eliminate food waste and increase food safety by reducing the risk of foodborne illness and bacteria growth. Storage containers, food pans, and airtight bins can provide excellent solutions for food storage.


No kitchen is complete without food! Be sure to stock up on pre-packaged foods such as canned fruits and vegetables, bulk condiments, and plenty of cooking oil. These consumables can run out quickly in a school kitchen.

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Serving Supplies

Whether your cafeteria has a traditional line setup or features a self-serve salad bar, you’re going to need serving supplies for your school kitchen. Pick up plenty of tongs, spoodles, ladles, and serving utensils to be prepared to serve students all year.

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What’s a Spoodle? A spoodle is a cafeteria favorite food portioner that’s a cross between a spoon and a ladle! This serving utensil is perfect for use with steam table pans and is available in color-coded handles for participation in food safety programs.

Food Prep

Sharp knives, adequate mixing bowls, and durable slicers are essential for food preparation in a kitchen. These items will help you start the year out strong and prepared.

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Baking Supplies

Baking supplies don’t have to only be for making dessert. These helpful tools can make easy work of messy and tedious tasks like scratch baking and cooking.

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Allergen-Free Supplies

Food allergens are an important factor to consider in a school kitchen. Often, supplies will come in allergen-free varieties to help prevent cross-contact of foodWhenever you’re working in a commercial kitchen, operators should always bear in mind the Big Eight Most Common Allergens: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. Precautions should always be taken to prevent these foods from encountering any ready-to-eat foods. Look for purple color coding in food storage, cutting boards, cutlery, serving utensils, and more for allergen-free supplies.

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Cleaning Supplies

NAFEM (National Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers) recommends a list of supplies for a 200-seat cafeteria. This list includes the best things to keep your kitchen well-maintained and clean. Below are some key cleaning supplies to look for:

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Top Supply Vendors for School Kitchens

Need a little help on where to start shopping? These vendors partner with Central Restaurant Products to provide industry-leading kitchen supplies and equipment. 

  • Carlisle – Carlisle specializes in trays, bussing equipment, food bars, and food storage.  
  • San Jamar – San Jamar is the right vendor if you’re looking for cutting boards, cookware supplies, and kitchen apparel. 
  • PanSaver – A perfect supplier for disposable pan covers and liners.
  • Tablecraft – Tablecraft offers food and buffet service items like baskets, condiment bottles, food bar accessories, and even beverage dispensers. 
  • Vollrath – Vollrath is an industry leader in cookware, food prep supplies, and stainless steel food pans. 
  • Cambro – Cambro is a top vendor for durable trays, food carts, and food tables in a commercial setting. 

Remember Food Safety

When serving a more vulnerable population like school children, it’s even more important to keep food safety in mind. Due to vulnerability of immune systems, a school kitchen has the responsibility to maintain high food safety standards to prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact of allergens. Central offers a series of articles on food safety for commercial kitchens. Check out these articles to learn more about maintaining a safe kitchen environment. 

Food Safety 101 

Correct Cooking Temperatures & Thermometer Types 

What is Cross Contamination and How to Prevent It? 

Common Food Allergens & Preventing Cross-Contact 

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