There are several fundamental drivers that really matter when it comes to health, nutrition and the provision of school meals. But underpinning them all is the importance of getting the basics right. So, what are those basics are and why are they so critical?

A nutritious diet is essential for the health and wellbeing of children and teens. They need the right fuel for their growth and development. Consuming the right food and drink at school has a positive impact on their bodies and brains, whilst helping to establish their lifelong eating habits.

To promote healthy eating in schools, it’s vital to encourage children to eat a wide-ranging, nutrient-rich diet from an early age. School meals should be at the very heart of this process. They are often the only opportunity for a child to consume a variety of fresh ingredients. And they are an important weapon in the fight against childhood obesity.

Obesity is a health crisis in the making as it reduces life expectancy and increases the chance of developing serious illnesses, not to mention an increased risk from the coronavirus. This impending crisis instigated the launch of a government healthy eating strategy in 2020, and reducing obesity in schools is an essential part of this.

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Report: Feeding the Future - The Five Fundamentals that Should Matter Most 

feeding the future report

Better food can create a brighter future for children and young people. As they become increasingly aware of issues such as nutrition, climate change and food waste, school leaders have an opportunity to help establish lifelong healthy habits.

In this report, we examine the five fundamentals we believe should matter most to state school leaders in the health, nutrition and provision of school meals.

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Healthy school meals and educational outcomes

Many families lack the time, knowledge or ability to prepare truly well-balanced, nutritious meals. This can often be the case for low-income households.

Instead, these families may have to rely on cheap but unhealthy fast food, particularly in inner-city areas where takeaway options are inexpensive and readily available. These options are high in unhealthy saturated fats and additives, offering little in the way of fresh, wholesome ingredients.

This is why school meals are so important. We can control the nutritional content and ensure healthy eating guidelines are adhered to. There is law and policy on healthy food in schools in the form of the school food standards to enforce this.

There is also evidence that confirms meals prepared at home usually lack the vitamins and minerals needed. Many parents don’t know how to feed their children a healthy diet, and research from Leeds University highlighted the poor nutritional quality of packed lunches.

Packed lunches are still dominated by sweet and savoury snack food and sugary drinks. Children who take a packed lunch into school are at a greater risk of not getting sufficient nutrients compared to classmates who have a school meal."

Dr Charlotte Evans, School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds

Modern school meals have come a long way since Jamie Oliver’s ‘Turkey Twizzler’ campaign of 2005, which motivated dramatic improvements in the nutritional quality of food available to school children, along with a reduction in unhealthy junk food options.

A survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation, as part of Healthy Eating Week 2020, following a national lockdown, revealed that 50% of primary school pupils and over a quarter of secondary school students felt better or healthier after returning to school in September 2020. 

Clearly healthy school meals make a difference and enable schools to influence the healthy eating habits of children and young people.

 

Following the brilliant basics of The Eatwell Guide

Proven recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet are outlined in The Eatwell Guide, a government-backed model launched in 2016. It describes a diet that is rich in foods from plants, whilst including some meat, dairy, fish and eggs. 

The guide focuses on what matters most when it comes to a healthy diet.

It presents the five main food groups in a visual, easy-to-understand format, detailing the recommended proportions for providing the wide range of nutrients our bodies need for optimum health. 

And yet, recent research has shown that less than 1% of the population follow all of the recommendations it outlines, highlighting the importance of school meals that share these sound principles.

 

Good diet and academic performance

how to promote healthy eating habits in schools

It’s clear that a nutritious diet will improve the health of children and young people, but it can also lead to significant benefits beyond their physical wellbeing. 

A report by Public Health England in 2014 confirmed that pupils with better health are likely to achieve better educational outcomes, as well as fare better socially and emotionally. 

Pupils who were previously underperforming saw an even more noticeable growth in academic achievement, demonstrating a correlation between good diet and student academic performance.

 

How to promote healthy eating in schools

Aside from providing nutritionally valuable menus, it is also important to engage children and teachers in educational activities that broaden their knowledge and understanding. The benefits of this stretch far beyond the school gates.

There are a multitude of ways that food education can be embedded across a school. From posters in the dining hall, to point of sale and leaflets, the school website, parent comms, cooking demonstrations, classes, assemblies, newsletters and so on. 

But whatever the methods used, remembering to tell a good story around food makes all the difference. The healthy eating message is more likely to result in change if children can get involved, so teaching materials and activities need to be fun, engaging and interesting.

Sodexo has a strategic partnership with the British Nutrition Foundation, a leading UK nutrition charity, to deliver food education and training in schools. This will ensure the information taught in lessons reflects the reality of all food experiences, including breakfast clubs, lunches and tuck shops. 

 

Good nutrition literally feeds the future

The positive development of future generations can be fuelled with good nutrition, and school meals play a crucial role in this. Not only do they help the child’s physical and mental health and performance, they also determine good eating habits for life. 

Findings from a study published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health in 2021 suggest that public health strategies to optimise the mental wellbeing of children should include promotion of good nutrition.

And by providing them with a varied diet, school meals help children to explore new types of food, including choices that benefit the world at large. It can open them up to more sustainable options that reduce carbon emissions in a long-lasting, meaningful way.

With many parents stating that they lack the knowledge and resources to feed their children optimum diets, we all must step up and accept the critical roles we play as stakeholders in this quest. 

School meals don’t just put fresh, healthy food on the plate, they can make a positive social impact on all members of both the school and local community. 

 

Discover the five fundamentals

feeding the future report

Better food can create a brighter future for children and young people. As they become increasingly aware of issues such as nutrition, climate change and food waste, school leaders have an opportunity to help establish lifelong healthy habits.

Providing a varied, balanced and nutrient-dense diet is one of five fundamentals that should matter most to school leaders in the health, nutrition and provision of school meals.

Download the full report below to discover more.

 

 

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November 26, 2021