Food for thought on school dinners

By on 12/07/2013 in Blog

Birmingham Public Health's Consultant Dietician and Senior Manager for Healthy Eating and Activity, Linda Hindle, reflects on a new national report looking at school meals.

It's been as hectic day for public health, with news stories about minimum pricing for alcohol and the failure to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes. So you might have missed another important story regarding the Government commissioned school food review.

First of all, I'm delighted the plan recommends extending the revised school meal standards to all schools including academies and free schools. The exemption of these schools over recent years has significantly hindered the overall progress. The simple fact is that all children should have access to the best nutritional quality meals regardless of where they go to school.

The recommendation to review the cost of school meals and options to make school meals the preferred choice by parents and pupils is also welcome.

Many parents cite the cost of school meals as a barrier particularly those on low incomes who aren't eligible for free school meals. In Birmingham we also want to concentrate on supporting the dining room staff to do more to make the dining experience appealing and fun.

Much of the media focus has been on the suggestion that packed lunches be banned.

Now I understand why this may be seen as a step too far for head teachers, but it should be considered as an option.

Of course packed lunches can be very healthy - just look at some of the healthy suggestions in this British Dietetic Association factsheet: http://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/PackedLunches.pdf

Unhealthy packed lunchBut, having viewed some of the packed lunches being taken into local schools (including the meal to the right), I was appalled at what some children were given to eat.

Personally I believe there is a creep effect with packed lunches. As parents we intend to provide healthy food for our children but time, pester power and what we have available at the end of the week can all reduce the quality.

I was also heartened to see reference to after school cooking lessons for parents and children, whenever this type of session is run within Birmingham schools it goes down a storm.

The legacy of cooking being removed from the curriculum in the early 1990's is a generation of young parents who may not have learned how to cook if they didn't learn from their family.

In Birmingham we've had real success tackling this with our Cooking With Your Kids scheme and as you'll see from the video below, both children and parents reap the rewards.

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