Like all institutions, a school day is organised around food. Like adults at work, most children look forward to their lunch hour. It is a period of respite that they require, to curb their hunger and recuperate before an afternoon of work. However, on top of ignoring the importance of good food some schools are ignoring the importance of the lunchtime period as a vital/pivotal tool in a child’s education.
In some communities there has been a discussion/move to adjust and shorten the school lunchtime – to later in the day and to only 30 mins – but how does this benefit the child? It is a move wholly predicated on the concerns of the teacher/school, as opposed to the welfare and education of the child. Just take a minute to picture your own working lunchtime routine and compare it to the new suggested lunchtime to be potentially forced on pupils. Imagine for instance your employer allowing you to purchase food from one retailer, and installing a shorted lunchtime than means you have to stay put in one place, and you can’t eat it until much later in the day (1.30pm to be exact) – Imagine the reaction that would ensue? So why would any consideration be paid to enforcing the same regime onto children?
Changes to their timetables have exposed schools for failing to recognise the reality of life for their pupils. For example, according to a survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation, one in four secondary school pupils skip breakfast on their average school day. This could be for a number of reasons, including lack of income, but the fact remains the same: for a quarter of all secondary schoolers, their first meal of the day is their lunch. Schools who are thinking about these changes or are already squeezing lunchtimes are evidently ignorant to the lives of the pupils they are responsible for.
Children who are forced to wait for their lunch become hungrier and more disruptive, with plenty of evidence that even the shortest term, hunger causes behavioural issues. This ongoing cycle of poor-food practice around children catalyses immediate problems of poor behaviour in school as well as wider issues of depression, poor body image and longer lasting health effects – to name just a few. Protected lunchtimes and good-food is simply common sense and must become the starting point for any school to become recognised as a good-school.
Across the last few days we have discussed how school food can make a significant difference to children’s lives and to the environment of every school that wishes to feed children based on their education not the cost of a meal.
Austerity and the poor-food practice that surrounds it is creating a food-underclass. This underclass are being forced to eat food that most people would never choose to eat. In inner cities the circumstances leading to a child becoming part of this underclass is affecting about 2 in 5 children and the numbers are growing. In any community, schools are integral to the development of the children they take in and the wider community they tie into. They have incredible power and influence and it is this power and influence that can bring about the most positive change in a child’s diet and wellbeing.
We have set out here some concerns about the direction school food has gone in, and to finish provide here, a list of improvements/changes every school can make or maintain if they want to feed children and young people well;
Set menus that are about the wellbeing of the child not the gross profit of the catering provider.
Protect the lunchtime as sacrosanct in the school day
Remove sandwiches as a main meal option in all schools
Serve only fresh meals to children during their lunchtimes
Make sure all school meals are relevant to the eating habits of the children they serve
Provide a good-food safety net for hungry families caught up in food poverty
All of the above are simple changes to make, easy to implement and can be afforded, therefore any school that remains outside of the above, chooses to do so.
One final thought…We operate our school food model behind a simple message:
If you feed a child well, they are more likely to study/live well, if you don’t, they won’t.