Setting Up Meals - A step by step guide

If your school wants to use Meals in Arbor, follow the instruction below to set this up on your site.

You also may wish to look into our additional functionality which allows meals to be booked in advance: Rotating Meal Menus


  • Meals: Administer All Students - Set up meals for students
  • Finance: Administer - Set prices for the meals

If you don't have the permission, you'll need to ask your admin team to give you permission using these instructions.

How long will it take?

  • Add a meal - 1 minute
  • Add provisions - 5 minutes
  • Add prices for meals - 15 minutes
  • Schedule meal sittings - 5 minutes
  • Add meal attendees - 5 minutes
  • (Optional) Add meal choices - varies depending on number of students


Before setting up meals

First, decide whether you wish to charge all students for meals.

If you don't want to charge students, please follow our guidance here: Set up meals without using payments

If you do, check:

  1. You have set up card payments in Arbor. If you want to enable payments to be made via card for Meals, you'll need to make sure you have already set up Card Payments in Arbor.
  2. You're on the right package. Meals are included in all our Perform packages and our newest Comms package. All other Arbor packages won’t have this feature by default. Want to upgrade or find out what package you’re on? Just get in contact with your Account Manager.
  3. Make sure there is a Customer Account type for meals in School > Payments > Setup > Customer Account Types, and that it's visible on the Parent Portal if you want guardians to be able to top up the account.
  4. Set starting balances to bring over any starting money from your previous meals management system: Creating Initial Account Balances


Setting up your meals


Once you've set up your meal, the School > Meals > Setup page should look like this with one meal set up. The only step that can be left with a cross is the final step. This step auto-fills the meal register with a pre-determined meal choice.



Step 1 - Add a meal

Once you've set up the meal accounts, you need to name the meals the school provides in your canteen, for example Lunch.

Go to School > Meals > select Setup from the left-hand menu.



Once in Setup click on the Create Meal button.



In the slide over enter the name of the meal and which account type (auto set to Meals) you want this to be linked to.



Step 2 - Add provisions

Provisions are the types of meals for students or staff. All possible options should be labelled here with a meal price(s) attached. To set up a provision, click on the 'Provisions' option in the Meal's set up checkbox.




Provisions are the types of meal your school provides for students or staff.

Depending on the context of your school's meals, Arbor suggests setting up these provisions:

  1. School Meal/Hot Meal/Cold Meal etc can be set for students who require a meal. You can later set different prices for students who should pay and students (such as Free School Meal or FSM where the price should be £0.
  2. Absent - This will mean that when a child is absent Arbor will automatically remove the meal from their record for the day. When setting up, do not tick 'Requires Meal' but tick ' Is Absent' - this will automatically make Arbor pick up any children who are not in and give them this provision of no meal which will not have a price.If you wish to charge students who are absent a price needs to be set against the absent provision.
  3. Packed Lunch - This is a provision for students who bring their own lunch to school from home. Nothing will need to be ticked and no price will need to be given. 
  4. Staff Meal:
    • If you use Meal Menus, or all your staff pay the same amount, do not set up different provisions for staff meals - you can set up your price in the next step.
    • If you have two prices for staff; one paid for and one on duty (free), you'll need two provisions so each staff member can choose depending on their schedule.



In the slide over you need to enter details about the provision.


  • Meal - Lunch 2 is what we have called our overall meal.
  • Meal provision name - This is where you enter what you will call the meal, for example School Lunch or Staff Meal.
  • Meal type - Select from the options which description best fits the provision. In the above example, we have selected 'A hot meal prepared by the school'. Make sure you add an absent meal type so students who are not present will not be charged.

Then click on the green 'Add Provision' button.

Note: If you are a school that has set choices every day then you can set separate provisions for clearer records for the kitchen and finances, e.g. 'Jacket Potato', or 'Sandwiches'. You may also have a provision for packed lunches provided by the school for school trips.

For anything more complicated, please speak to Arbor Support.


Step 3 - Add pricing

Please note, if you can't complete these actions, you may not have the necessary permissions (the Finance: Administer permission). Please contact your Admin staff to help with this.

Enter a price by clicking '+Add' in the prices' table. This will automatically charge students and staff for the food taken. 

Screenshot 2023-09-29 at 14.27.06.png


With chargeable meals, remember to add prices for:

  • Free School Meals - Any student where this is set on their profile
  • Universal Free School Meals - Add a price and select that it applies to students in Year 1, Year 2 and Reception
  • All other students/staff - for students who are not FSM or UFSM

Top Tip: For FSM and UFSM students, they will not be charged because whichever the lowest price for a student is used.


Screenshot 2023-09-29 at 14.28.40.png


You will now have a list of all the meal provisions with prices, your school offers.



When you have finished creating provisions, click on the Back button.

You will see that you are half-way through the process of setting up the lunches - nearly done!



Step 4 - Schedule Meal Sittings

A sitting is where and what time the meal will take place. You can set up more then one sitting if you split up students meal times, e.g. if KS1 and KS2 have different meal times.

Click on 'Meal Sittings Schedule' in the table. 

Click the green 'Add Sitting' button to put in the days and times. 

Next, click on the 'Schedule Meal Sessions for XXXX' (this example is KS1 but this will have the name you have called your sitting here.)


A slide-over will appear to enter further details into.


If your meal session will be at the same time every day, just leave the 'Day of the week' field blank. The same applies to 'Terms'.

Click on 'Schedule Meal Sessions' to complete.

Top Tip: Make sure that lunch starts after scheduled lessons end. Otherwise, this will create an attendance clash for students.


Step 5 - Attendees

This part adds students to the meal registers to enable teachers to mark students in certain classes down for each meal. If you don't complete this step, you won't have any students in your meal registers!

Go to the 'Automatic Group Attendees' tab, then click +AddIn the slide-over select the class/classes you wish to automatically enrol in this sitting. Click on the arrow at the end of the box to see the drop-down menu.


You must select all the groups of students you wish to add to this sitting, or they will not appear in the meal registers.

Once you have added your groups, your Automatic Group Attendees tab might look something like this:



Optional - Regular Meal Choices

This final step is not mandatory. This part of the setup is to assign each student a regular meal choice so that teachers or administration staff do not have to enter this manually each day.

If any changes happen during the day, an administrator can make the changes. 



Click on the 'Add Meal Choices' green button.

A slide over will load entitled 'Add Meal Choice' where the first drop-down list for 'Attendee' is to choose the student(s) on the same meal provision. 



Tick the days the students will be taking the provision.



Choose the meal provision from the drop-down and update the effective start and end date, then click on Save Changes.



What's next?

On the day of the meal, your meal registers will be automatically filled in once attendance is taken: Taking the meal register

You can also report on your meals taken: Reporting on Meals.



Do I have to set up meals every year?

No, you can copy over your meal set up next academic year, this is part of your New School Year Setup process.   

What is a meal provision?

A meal provision in Arbor is your meal choice. You can have a very basic set up including Hot Lunch, Packed Lunch, Staff Meal, or a more complex set up such as Blue Lunch, Green Lunch.

Can meal provisions have different prices?

Yes! You can set up different prices for your different provisions.

We have different lunchtimes for different students, can we set this up?

Yes, you can create different sittings for different key stages or year groups to accommodate different lunchtimes.

Can we add staff to meal sittings as supervisors or duty?

Yes you can! Please see how to do this here: Can we add staff on Lunch Duty?

How do I set up free meals for Free School Meal and Universal Free School Meal pupils?

You don’t need to set up a separate provision for FSM and UFSM pupils.

You should add a zero price for FSM and UFSM in each provision added. The system will then recognise those pupils who fall into these categories and an invoice will not be raised.

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