NUTRITION IN SCHOOLS: does it matter?
Updated: Nov 26, 2019
The diet of young children has received increasing media scrutiny over the last few years, and with recent studies highlighting the correlation between nutrition and academic performance, its more important than ever to ensure our children are eating well at school
With a growing childhood obesity rate, the diet of young children has received increasing media scrutiny over the last few years. We all know that proper nutrition is vital to child health, yet at a societal level, the UK continually struggles to escape the paradox that a huge number of British schoolchildren are ‘overfed and undernourished’.
The consequences of poor eating patterns and sedentary lifestyles have been well researched and publicised, but potential impacts extend beyond an increased risk of chronic health problems in adult life.
Newer clinical studies have strengthened the scientific evidence-base which shows the correlation between nutritional factors and academic performance. These indicate that the nutrient density of school meals has an impact on pupils’ cognitive function, concentration and energy, as well as their metabolic health and waistlines.
Eating behaviour and habits are formed from a young age, and (alongside parents and carers), school settings across the Early Years and Preparatory stages offer an environment that can help positively shape how children think about food and eating.
Behavioural science has evidenced that children’s ‘choice architecture’ can be swayed by what is most visible and accessible; small tweaks in the school environment and lunchtime offering can have significant effects on their dietary selections and their behaviour.
Sinclair House School works closely with school caterers Naked Nosh to develop an innovative menu that is broad and balanced, but also incorporates child-friendly classics. The children always have a range of fruit and vegetables at mealtimes, wholegrains replace refined white carbohydrates much of the time, and the meat is carefully sourced directly from a supplier.
The weekly menu concentrates on child-friendly meals that encourage pupils to try more plant-based protein (such as beans and pulses) as well as omega-3 rich fish. In the Sinclair House School dining room, food education goes beyond what we eat, to incorporate how we eat as well. Eating is a social occasion, but children are also encouraged to develop good manners, and to eat slowly and mindfully.
Although nutrition education and health promotion are often incorporated into aspects of the curriculum (eg Science and PSHE), many schools are now exploring new ways of encouraging children to engage not just with what nutritional quality means, but also to grasp the intricacies food system itself and the whole process of ‘farm to fork’.
At Sinclair House School we take great pride in our rooftop garden (adjacent to the school kitchen space), which is equipped with wallside planters, a polytunnel and a compost box to enable children to cultivate fruit, vegetables and herbs.
The interactive and holistic approach in this forum means that children are involved in the whole journey from growing, to cooking and eating; this is critical to engaging younger pupils and making the whole process of learning exploratory and fun.
Food Technology is integrated into the Upper Years’ curriculum and this helps to equip children with practical cooking techniques, supported by additional theory in food science, hygiene, packaging and safety, as well as nutrition.
Working alongside parents and families, schools have the ability to impact future public health by fostering the knowledge and skills to help pupils relate to food and cooking in positive and healthy ways.
Educational environments provide a setting for important early experiences which help to develop children’s enjoyment of food, their understanding of the social contexts within which eating takes place, and their ability to make informed, healthy choices as they grow into young adults.