Tag Archives: school dinner

School lunch matters

With the recent publication of What’s for Lunch? I’ve been talking a lot about the potential for school lunch to transform schools and communities. I thought I’d try to express some of those possibilities in an easy-to-digest infographic ready for sharing. Please feel free to share, and let others know about the power of food.

Many thanks to Oliver Sutherns who designed and stick-handled the infographic from idea to reality!

Embed this image on your site:

<a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com/the-blog/school-lunch-matters/"><img src="http://unpackingschoollunch.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/school-lunch-infographic1.jpg" alt="School Lunch Matters Infographic" border="0" /></a><br />Brought to you by <a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com">Andrea Curtis</a>
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Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, School feeding, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

In (some) stores now!

It’s always an exciting day when the postie brings a package, but receiving this box of the first copies of What’s for Lunch? was especially thrilling. It looks amazing, with Yvonne Duivenvoorden’s photos and Sophie Casson’s illustrations making the pages sing.

I’ll be promoting and launching the book in the fall for back to school but in the meantime, you can find it in certain stores now (also here) or you can preorder online from here or here and have it delivered to your door. (The book will be launched in the U.S. in November.)

Watch here for details about where I’ll be talking about lunch and what kids are saying.

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

What’s for lunch in England?

Martha Payne, the 9-year-old British school lunch activist, has rocked the world the last couple of weeks with her blog Never Seconds. First she got more than two millions hits for her chronicle of her less-than-nutritious school lunches (as well as pictures of meals kids sent her from around the world). Then, just when it looked like her efforts might provoke some much-needed change, she was told by the local council she had to stop photographing the meals. Then the cries of censorship and tyranny from the blogosphere and Twitterverse forced the council to change its mind. What a month it’s been for Martha!

But in all the discussion about this crackdown on freedom of expression, and the power of social media, the original point she was making about the problem with school meals has been getting a bit lost.

What’s for Lunch in England? Photograph by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Britain’s story about changing school dinners for the better has inspired much discussion and many tributes.  After years of campaigning by organizations such as Sustain, and a powerful push by Jamie Oliver‘s School Dinners TV show, the transformation has been dramatic. Out with Turkey Twizzlers, in with fresh fruit and veg; out with fried foods and low-quality meats on a regular basis, in with new cooking facilities and an emphasis on using food from local producers. (The image above is from my book What’s for Lunch? and represents the new and improved school dinner. )

And the response has been extraordinary. Absences (related to illness) have dropped 14% since the introduction of healthier school meals. Kids who eat the nutritious meals are actually doing better on tests than those who don’t eat them.

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Home ec revisited

I was something of a tomboy growing up and didn’t pay much attention to anything I considered girlie.

I did however learn how to cook, sew and (later) type. At school. In the 1980s. Home economics was not optional in my elementary school. The Grade 7-8 girls did home ec; the boys did shop. (There may have been a few cross-over types but it was generally frowned upon.)

I remember burning a lot of things in the oven, and making a horrid floral blouse that I never wore (it was stiff and prissy and I’m pretty sure it’s the reason that to this day I almost never wear collared shirts or floral prints).  I spent most of the time being sarcastic about it all, irritated that sexist stereotypes were being perpetuated in school and figuring I’d never use the skills I learned. Home ec was for housewives, and that was not something I imagined ever wanting to be.

Fast forward some 25 years, and I type (for work) and cook (for pleasure—and family) everyday— with the occasional sewing project thrown in on special occasions.

I wouldn’t wish my old home ec class on anyone—especially divided by gender—but the idea of having such practical skills incorporated into school life sounds amazing, even essential, to me. Especially the cooking part.

Lamenting the loss of food skills in our culture has become a cliched refrain, but it’s also absolutely correct. Industrial food culture, of course, encourages this de-skilling—how else to sell more Big Macs, frozen chicken nuggets and Lite Delite Dinners? And the worst part of all is the impact it’s had on our health—and the health of our children.

There are some schools out there still offering cooking classes—often combined with their school gardens–though not many in my part of the world. In Britain, however, after years of campaigning by interested teachers and parents, “cookery” was finally added to the curriculum for 11-14 year olds. Advocates successfully argued that one of the largest barriers to good health is a lack of cooking skills.

But according to Jackie’s School Food Blog, the new Secretary of Education is doing a curriculum revamp and is likely to get rid of compulsory cookery. (Sustain is running a campaign called Keep Kids Cooking to pressure the government to maintain it.)

Squandering this resource is an astonishingly shortsighted thing to do when health and food are so much at top of mind for people around the world.

Just last year, in fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association even weighed in, publishing a editorial that urged American educators to “Bring Back Home Economics Education.” Not some retrograde version of my gendered home ec class, but curriculum for boys and girls focused on basic principles about feeding yourself and your family, complete with practical lessons, field trips and demonstrations.

I can’t believe I’m saying this considering my own resistance to home ec, but in our contemporary food culture, teaching kids to cook could be one of the most radical moves of all.

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Filed under Kids and food, School kitchens

2011: the year in preview

There’s something about all the “Best Of…” lists that come out this time of year that I find a bit depressing. In the dead of Canadian winter, with so little sun to warm my bones, I guess I’d just rather look ahead. So here’s that fool’s errand—a  round-up of predictions for 2011 in the world of food and kids—from my home to the wider world.

My 11-year-old son’s New Year’s Resolution is to make his lunch “more”—which, considering he never makes his lunch, probably means once a week. The mornings are a frantic time in our house and we haven’t made the space for him in our routine but all that changes now that he’s taken the initiative. I hope he’ll allow me to chronicle some of his efforts here on What’s for Lunch?

The Food Channel predicts that one of the big food trends of 2011 is thousands of chefs will be joining school cafeteria crews. “This will be the year we finally get really serious about feeding our children healthier, better quality foods. We’re no longer just talking about childhood obesity, we’re doing something about it.”

According to agriculturalist/horticulturalist George Ball writing in The Wall Street Journal, 2011 will be the year of the vegetable.  Ball says kids will eat them if their parents tell them they must. (I ought to try that one….)

Epicurious suggests that Meatless Mondays will go mainstream, with numerous American school districts already embracing vegetarian offerings.

Marion Nestle writes that school food will continue to make front page news in the US as the new Child Nutrition Act is implemented—and negotiated on the ground.

This is the year Ontario schools will ban junk food from their premises. I predict lots of hand-wringing from good-food backlash types about children’s god-given right to soda, etc.

Funding for school dinners in England has been on shaky ground since the change of government last year. There are signs that this will continue despite all the excellent work the School Food Trust and others have done showing the enormous benefits of healthy food in school canteens.

In Afghanistan, where thousands of children rely on school meals (often emergency biscuits or corn-soy porridge) supplied by the World Food Program, the organization says the outlook on food security is increasingly bleak. A funding shortfall may mean the WFP has to cut its assistance down to only emergency projects. With wheat prices continuing to rise and the humanitarian situation deteriorating, need is only going to increase.

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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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