Whether you're planning a school program or wanting to provide meals for your organization, there are a few rules to abide by if you want to have both a reasonable budget and good quality.
Balance Higher and Lower Cost Options
You might choose to have one higher cost option per day, balanced with several lower cost options. People will appreciate the high quality option, but some may still get a salad, fries, or other low-cost ingredients. It still increases the perception of your food program.
Balance Fresh and Frozen Ingredients
A similar balance can be created between packaged or frozen ingredients and fresh ingredients. While everything doesn't need to be farm to table, it is important to have some ingredients that are obviously very fresh.
Be Conservative with Ingredients
You probably don't want to end up with a lot of leftovers at the end of every meal. That's just money that could have gone towards providing better quality food in the future. Make sure that you are taking data on how much food was ordered and how much food was eaten. This may vary by day of the week or season. Keeping accurate track of how much food you need is key to planning an efficient meal service for your organization.
Hire Contract Food Services
Costs can quickly become unmanageable if you need to provide all of your own equipment, ingredients, and employees. Equipment is a huge upfront investment that you may not get a ton of use out of (or at least, enough to justify the high expense for your organization). Ingredients are much cheaper when purchased in bulk, and you may not have enough quantity to qualify for the best discounts. Plus, finding ingredient vendors and coordinating between them is a continual pain. Finally, employees are hard to come by and hard to keep in the food industry.
Instead, with contract food services, you pay for only what you need. They provide the equipment, which will be professional and high quality. You don't worry about equipment maintenance or replacement. The contract food service sources your menu ingredients, and they have relationships with vendors that offer great prices. They also deal with training their own food prep and service staff, so you know that you are getting quality service. It is the short cut to quality, and the prices can actually be much more reasonable than putting together your own team and kitchen.