7 Steps to Improving Nutrition in Schools
The role of schools in forming lifelong healthy eating habits cannot be underestimated. By providing effective nutrition education alongside healthy school meals, schools can equip pupils with the tools they need to make healthier choices both in adolescence and in later life.
As this week marks the British Nutrition Foundation’s Healthy Eating Week, which focuses on ‘finding your healthier you’ journey, we have compiled 7 practical steps to improving nutrition in schools and encouraging positive long-term eating habits.
What are the government food standards and regulations for schools?
According to gov.uk, food served in schools and academies in England must meet the School Food Standards so that children have healthy, balanced diets.
Meals must provide high-quality meat, poultry or oily fish, fruit and vegetables, bread, and other cereals and potatoes. There cannot be drinks with added sugar and crisps, chocolate or sweets in school meals or vending machines, alongside a limit of no more than two portions of deep-fried, battered, or breaded food a week.
Are schools delivering adequate nutrition to staff and pupils?
Whilst the School Food Standards are in place to ensure schools encourage pupils to develop healthy food choices, some schools struggle to get the correct nutrition and balanced diet to not only their students but to their staff body, and for various reasons.
There are various reasons for this struggle, and one most evident is the lack of efficient management in their school systems.
One of the biggest offenders of an unhealthy diet in pupils is the day-to-day slog of mealtime queuing in schools. Long wait times for school lunches combined with a short amount of time to eat increases the likelihood of pupils making lunch choices based on convenience and availability.
Therefore, mealtime queuing can be one of the main contributors to unhealthy food choices in schools, leading to malnutrition, reduced productivity, and childhood obesity.
As pupils turn to alternative methods to queueing for school lunches, out-of-gate spending increases further. According to Q Minder, a secondary school in London found that its pupils were rejecting food in a school canteen and instead favoured the option to leave school grounds and purchase their lunches, rather than queue for the school meals provided.
This kind of out-of-gate spending can mean students are consuming unhealthy foods for lunch, which the school cannot have complete control over, increasing the risk of childhood weight gain and poor nutrition in children.
Doctor Dame Sally Davies warns obesity poses such a threat to the country that we should treat it as a national risk alongside terrorism, noted in a recent interview for The Telegraph. This statement was accompanied by a survey which found that obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds.
How can schools teach children about food nutrition and a healthy diet?
According to the school blog KSL, there are seven helpful pointers to assist schools with their approach to food with pupils in a healthy and educational way. These include:
- 1. Be mindful of language - avoid using ‘bad versus good’ language surrounding food choices, which teaches kids to categorise food types based on morality can lead to shame and guilt when indulging in the occasional treat.
- 2. Teach that food is fuel for the body - encourage children to associate nutritious foods with gaining energy to do all the things they love.
- 3. Encourage trying new foods - use taste testing, introduce variety and teach pupils about the exciting foods on offer in different countries.
- 4. Teach the principle of variety - provide education on a balanced meal, and link this back to the enjoyment of food and how nutritious food can also be tasty.
- 5. Back to nature - connect kids to gardening, agriculture and teach them about where foods come from with ‘grow your own’ activities in lessons.
- 6. Teach the importance of inclusivity - reinforce the idea that all foods can be included, in moderation, in a balanced diet. Avoid discussing eliminating food groups.
- 7. Teach kids to respect biological diversity - discuss messages of size diversity in the context of a lesson on nutrition.
The link between cashless operations and pupil diets
Cashless catering systems, such as AMI’s Infinity + software, offers complete flexibility and works around the requirements of each school. During school mealtimes, cashless systems reduce queues by using quicker identification methods and pre-order payments. These cashless methods ensure pupils spend less time queuing and have more time to eat a healthy school lunch.
The pre-order aspect of this software minimises food wastage whilst providing detailed allergy and dietary requirement information. The app also enables schools to remove any potential discrimination of students by offering Free School Meals (FSM) anonymity.
A LACA survey revealed that 4.9% of pupils entitled to a free school meal do not take up their entitlement, possibly due to parents not wanting their children to face potential embarrassment and discrimination.
A cashless system also promotes healthy eating in schools as it reduces and controls the level of out-of-the-gate spending on unhealthy meals and snacks. Pre-order software, such as the Infinity+ Order pre-order app, mirrors modern food ordering apps such as Deliveroo, which encourages pupils to control their food choices and guarantees they can enjoy their favourite lunch every day.
Healthier lunch options that meet nutritional requirements is one of the most effective ways to tackle the childhood obesity crisis, leading to a better learning environment and reducing food insecurity by establishing a lifetime of healthy habits in students.
Furthermore, AMI’s Infinity + cashless catering and ID management software enables parents to take an active role in their children’s daily school food consumption, despite them not being present at school throughout the day.
When using the Infinity+ Order pre-order app, parents can sit with their children and help them make educated and balanced food choices, ensuring their child is getting a healthy and nutritious meal during school hours. The cashless catering options of AMI Education means parents can rest assured the money spent on school meals is used to make healthy food choices backed by a comprehensive education on nutrition in schools.
Are you looking to make your school cashless?
Get in touch with our team to see how ami’s cashless solutions can benefit your school.
Over the past two years, the Coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread chaos and disruption across the country, perhaps most notably to children and staff in education.
Since March 2020, UK children have spent months in and out of local and national lockdowns. These disruptions resulted in an unprecedented amount of time missed from the classroom and a nationwide appeal to increase the standards of home food parcels for free school meal kids who missed out on their regular hot and healthy meals that would normally be served from the canteen.
Despite the hardships and challenges that everyone in education catering has faced, it’s been brilliant to see how the industry has bounced back since reopening.
Food Parcels and School Responses
In January of this year, one mother took to Twitter to express her shock over the quality of a food parcel she had received. The image, which was shared 15,000 times on social media, sparked a huge discussion across the UK about the quantity and quality of food distributed to the homes of children claiming free school meal provision.
In response to the criticism, some schoolteachers and caterers began stepping in to help struggling children and parents from their own pockets, showing the incredible kindness of those working in education.
One school staff member, Zane Powels, donated 7,500 meals in total alongside laptops to assist vulnerable children whilst they were learning at home. The hero from Western Primary School in Grimsby was given an MBE for his amazing efforts, delivering 138 meals a day to children - walking a total of 550 miles during last year’s first lockdown.
Another team of school caterers from Thomas Deacon Education Trust in Peterborough also pulled together to deliver 600 meal parcels over four weeks. Catering Operations Manager for TDET, Michael Dove, said: “It has been an honour to support our local community throughout this pandemic. We understand that food plays an important role in enabling our pupils to achieve their very best. For some children, the meal they would usually have at school would be their only hot meal of the day and we must continue to provide this for them in the best way we can.”
This collective effort of school caterers lead to a nationwide review of the school meal packages, prompting change and helping to protect vulnerable children at a time where they needed it most.
Reopening School Kitchens
When schools returned, the regular lunch service that everyone had known had been changed completely. New social distancing measures were put in place, and more schools started to implement pre-ordering solutions to allow for a safer and simpler grab-and-go system.
Not only could thousands of vital school caterers return to working at full capacity, but the pause from ordinary operations has allowed the industry to revaluate its approaches towards sustainability and food waste.
A report produced by Footprint Intelligence which focused on conquering challenges in education catering during COVID-19, discovered that 75% of foodservice professionals believed that sustainability had been side-lined because of the pandemic and a further 96% reported that COVID-19 had increased the use of disposables. But there is hope! The same people noted that other solutions are proven to work including existing crockery and reusable options such as bento boxes and how there was now the momentum to change a broken system.
The report concluded that with the learnings of the pandemic considered, there is no better time than now to begin future-proofing the school lunch service for the benefit of the planet. Whether it be through trailing a plant-based menu, implementing pre-ordering solutions, or pushing for policy changes, the resilience from the education catering industry throughout these tough times has meant that it now can bounce back better than ever before.
Celebrating the Industry
Finally, it’s been a difficult year, so celebrating the work of the industry is paramount. With awards such as The LACA Awards For Excellence and the Public Sector Catering Awards on the calendar, these events will allow us to celebrate the unsung heroes of the pandemic and push the industry to even greater heights as it bounces back to its former glory.
We can’t wait to see what happens next.
When presented with a slice of pizza or a salad, most pupils will likely choose the pizza. For many students, the fast, greasy, and fried option will ultimately be more appealing.
When faced with this reality, combined with the ever-increasing accessibility of fast, takeaway foods from outlets such as Deliveroo and JustEat, schools and parents face increasing challenges to get pupils to make healthier eating choices in schools. At ami Education, we’re looking at simple and practical ways to encourage healthy eating in schools and the impact on pupils.
Emphasise nutrition education
Many of us understand how the food we eat impacts our everyday life, including our concentration levels, mood, skin, hair, and even sleep. However, some pupils, especially those without an active interest in food and nutrition, risk not understanding the full extent to which the food they put in their bodies affects their life.
Schools, parents, and guardians can take an active role in educating pupils about nutrition and the impact that a healthy diet has on their ability to learn, as well as their life outside of the classroom.
Focusing on how food can make us feel and demonstrating how the choices we make regarding food directly affects the way we behave enables action-based learning which pupils can apply to their everyday life.
For example, demonstrating how switching from white pasta to wholewheat pasta can keep us fuller for longer and therefore reduce the risk of excess snacking and how simple changes can make a significant impact and encourages pupils to take an active role in their health.
Food labels and online resources
Nutrition and allergen information on food labels is mandatory. With Natasha’s Law soon to come into effect, which will require all food businesses, including school caterers, to include accurate and in-depth ingredient lists on food labels, pupils must learn what this information means to them.
Nutrition information can help us to make informed food choices, and educating pupils on how to read and process food labels is crucial, especially if we want pupils to carry healthy eating habits into adulthood.
In the classroom, teachers can provide worksheets for pupils to fill in and compare food labels from different products. Food A Fact Of Life, managed by the British Nutrition Foundation, which provides free educational resources for nutrition education, suggests providing pupils with clean packaging from a range of standard and healthy food options.
The pupils can read and compare food labels and discuss the findings with their classmates, such as the first ingredient listed in each product, compare the sugar and fat contents, and why some products are more likely to contain higher amounts of sugars than others.
Online resources are not only available to schools but also to parents and guardians. Websites such as Change4Life, launched in 2009 as part of a national goal set out in the government’s Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives initiative, is designed to ensure parents and guardians have the essential support and tools they need to make healthier choices for their family.
Change4Life provides fun activities, recipes, and a range of food facts to help educate families on nutrition and provide a fun and interactive way for children to learn about a healthy lifestyle. Visit the Change4Life website to access these resources.
School dinners vs packed lunches
Whilst school catering teams strive to provide nutritious and tasty lunches to help power pupils through the day, the prevalence of packed lunches is a challenge for schools aiming to meet strict nutritional standards.
In UK schools, there is currently no government guidance on packed school lunches. Whilst individual schools in England can decide their policy on food brought in from home, compared with hot school meals required to meet strict nutritional standards, packed lunches face fewer restrictions and increase the likelihood of unhealthy food brought in.
Research conducted by the Children’s Food Trust in 2013 compared hot school meals against packed lunches following new compulsory school food standards. The research found that school meals are now consistently more nutritious than packed lunches, giving children who eat them a better foundation for good health.
For pupils of all ages, opting for hot school lunches where possible ensure their lunch choices will contain:
- High-quality meat, poultry or oily fish
- Fruit and vegetables
- Bread, other cereals and potatoes
Parents and pupils can also rest assured that restrictions for hot school meals apply to:
- Drinks with added sugar, crisps, chocolate, or sweets
- Limits of no more than two portions of deep-fried, battered, or breaded food a week
Offer a familiar ordering experience for pupils
Technology plays a significant part in our everyday lives, especially for secondary school students. With easily accessible food delivery apps like Uber Eats and Deliveroo on every mobile phone, providing a solution that competes with these out-of-the-gate spending options and encouraging pupils back in the dining hall has never been easier.
Technology like ami’s Infinity+ Order app breaks the confines of the school dining hall and enables pupils to pre-order their school meals directly from their mobile phone, anytime, anywhere. Infinity+ Order offers secondary school pupils a familiar food ordering method whilst providing a host of other benefits to pupils and school staff, including:
- Reduced lunch queues - pupils pre-order their meals ready to collect at lunchtime
- Pupils can view their live cashless balance and previous transaction history anytime, anywhere
- Helps reduce food wastage by informing school catering teams of what to prepare in advance
- Reporting suite assists with stock control and trend predictions
From ground to fork
An increasing number of UK schools are now dedicating school ground spaces to growing fresh fruit and vegetables to serve in the school dining hall.
This new teaching method encourages pupils to make healthy eating choices in school by involving them in where their food comes from and teaching about food production outside of the classroom and the overall process from ground to fork.
For establishments with ground space to spare, providing areas for pupils to grow fresh fruits and vegetables teaches them to take an active interest in the food they eat.
Teaching pupils the value of growing their food encourages students to opt for lunch choices they grew and provides freshly grown, organic foods that appeal to students.
One UK school pioneering the way in growing and rearing its own produce is Charlton Manor Primary School, based in South-East London. Its pupils grow figs, oranges, tomatoes, grapes, and kiwis. There are also chickens and three beehives on-site, whilst the school has a campaign team made up of year 5 and 6 pupils to raise awareness about healthy diets.
“Charlton is a brilliant example of a school bringing together gardening and healthy eating. With vision and a bit of dedication, any school can get growing." Chris Collins, Head of Organic Horticulture for Garden Organic.
Encouraging students to make healthy choices in school can often seem like an uphill battle. With these simple tips and a wealth of online resources available for schools and parents, we can all get involved with inspiring the next generation to take control over their health, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Interested in learning more about Infinity+ Order? Get in touch to learn more about how pre-ordering can benefit your school.