A cautionary tale from Scotland

After blogging earlier in the week about Mexico’s efforts to cut down on junk food available in the schoolyard, I came across an interesting story from the BBC about what’s been happening in Scotland—and the limitations of rules and bans on school food.

School meals have changed dramatically in the UK over the last five years. Rising rates of childhood obesity combined with the lobby of food activists (not to mention celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s high profile take-down of the nasty offerings in canteens on his TV show Jamie’s School Dinners) caused UK governments to reexamine the food served to schoolchildren.

Today,  school kitchens in Scotland can’t serve more than 3 deep-fried foods a week;  and chips can only be served as part of a balanced meal. Two types of veg and fruit must be offered at each meal and no confectionery (candy) or savoury snacks (except crackers, oatcakes and breadsticks) are allowed.

UK blogger/teacher Jackie's school meal from June 9, 2010

Among school feeding advocates, the UK has been heralded as something of a success story. The BBC article on Scotland, however, shows that work is still to be done, and bans and regulations alone aren’t enough when it comes to school meals.

According to the piece, many kids in Scotland simply end up rejecting the new canteen meals, and going outside school gates to buy fish and chips or pop at commercial vendors.

All of which is not to say that schools and governments shouldn’t create rules or institute bans on unhealthy food. I’ve argued before and will again that such measures are essential. But they need to be backed up by creative and responsive education and food service. That means school kitchens that do food tastings and offer attractive, tasty meals. It means making canteens/cafeterias nice places to be. It means making healthy food look good.

The School Food Trust has known this from the beginning. It is the inspirational UK agency (which had its budget reduced by a million pounds when the new coalition government in Britain took power) charged with the remit to:

“transform school food and food skills, promote the education and health of children and young people and improve the quality of food in schools.”

They do this by creating the rules and regulations but also through research,  the creation of helpful materials aimed at children, parents, teachers and caterers, as well as celebrating school success stories— all of which reveal that transforming the physical space and taking a holistic approach to food in schools can improve uptake, health, learning ability and childrens’ engagement with healthy eating. Check out some of their fascinating case studies here.


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