Tag Archives: School Food Trust

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>


Filed under City gardens, 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.

Continue reading

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Filed under School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Slow food in schools

At my son’s school, lunch is eaten in a mad dash to recess. When we are resignedly (and with more than a touch of irritation) cleaning out his lunch box of half eaten sandwiches or barely touched pasta and browned apples, he says (pre-emptively), “But I diiiiidn’t have tiiiiiime….”

The lunchroom, frankly, isn’t conducive to eating slowly—or eating at all. It’s a gym the rest of the day—a place for running and throwing and playing. And the reality is, they don’t have a lot of time before they’re shuffled out the door.

Photograph of a typical Canadian lunch from What's for Lunch? copyright Yvonne Duivenvoorden

I was thinking about this the other day when someone asked me about what kind of research had been done on the benefits of slow food (in the broader sense rather than the Slow Food Movement) in schools. The idea of slowing down, enjoying your food, having conversations around the table, taking pleasure in the meal is about as far from the average Canadian lunchroom as Pluto from the Sun.

But there are some schools—Canadian and otherwise—working to change all that. Continue reading

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School kitchens, School lunch

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.


Filed under Kids and food, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch

Slow food take 2

This week, I sat down with my editor and looked at the first page proofs of What’s for Lunch? (my book on how schoolchildren eat around the world coming out next year). It looks fabulous (I’ll give a sneak peek sometime soon), and among other things, I was reminded (happily) that many countries around the world treat lunch as an occasion to be enjoyed and savoured rather than simply an unpleasant diversion from playtime (scroll down for this week’s post on the latter).

I thought it would be worth looking at how things work in some other countries:

•In France, 45 minutes is devoted to the eating part of lunch—plus playtime afterward.

•In Russia, teachers walk around the cafeteria making sure children eat using proper table manners (something they are taught in school!).

•In China, teachers also walk around and encourage kids to chew their food carefully and not be too noisy.

• According to a national survey called the School Health Policies and Practices Study,  American children have an average of 22.8 minutes after sitting down to eat their lunch at school (I’ve also heard 7 minutes as an average—it’s probably somewhere in between.)

•In England, the School Food Trust publishes case studies under the title “Meal Experience.” From introducing special “meal deals” to getting children to create place mats  to brighten the space to posting menus and having tasting sessions, many schools are working at making school dinners a social experience as well as a healthy eating one.

• In Japan, students serve the food and the whole class waits to eat until everyone is seated and served. Teachers and admin people also sit down with the children. (For more on kyushoku, see my posts here and here.) Before they begin, they chant Itadakimasu all together (one of many translations is “let’s eat!”—but it’s also a thank you to those who provided the meal).

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Where’s the trust?

I’ve written before about the School Food Trust, an organization in Britain that acts as a kind of support, research and implementation wing of the government’s school dinner program. It started as an arm’s length agency under the Labour government following chef Jamie Oliver’s campaign to expose unhealthy meals served in school canteens, and became a registered charity a few years later—though it continues to rely on government funding.

According to teachers like Jackie of Jackie’s School Food Blog, it’s done a huge amount to change and improve school lunch, and there is much that remains to be done. The case studies on the SFT website looking at schools that have transformed themselves with its help are clear evidence of the enormous potential.

But last week, following months of worry from healthy school food advocates, word was leaked out of the new coalition government that the School Food Trust is on the chopping block. Along with 176 other organizations the SFT may lose its status and funding.

Just when Americans are starting to wake up to the need for better government support for healthy school food, Britons are at risk of losing theirs. Advocates believe the move is motivated by ideology rather than economics. It’s hard to imagine a more short-sighted approach to something as important as the health and well-being of a country’s young people.

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School lunch angst

In all my writing and thinking about school lunch, there is one thing I haven’t really touched on: the social element. It’s a rather large oversight, considering it’s what most kids remember and what happens between kids and teachers/staff in that environment can make or break the lunch experience—more even than what they eat, how it’s packaged, etc.

I suppose parents of brown baggers (like me) focus on nutrition and making the food look cute or tasty because those are things you can control—whereas someone being mean to your kid in the lunch room isn’t really something you can prevent.  But the massive importance of the social/environment came home to me this week as I sent my tearful son off to his second week of Grade 1.

It must be said that this is a guy who really likes school and his teacher, and has always been a great eater. School lunch—eaten in a crowded gym with at least 150 other kids —however, has his knickers in a knot. He was warned by his big brother about the rules and chaos and the tough supervision so he has likely been girding himself for difficulty. But Monday morning, week II he was crying and begging us to come get him for lunch or at least send him to daycare. According to him, every day last week something went wrong at noon hour.

Day 1: He didn’t know where to put the lunchbox when he was finished and he cried.
Day 2: Someone laughed at the robot keychain on his lunchbox (the previous week he insisted we buy a pair of red pants because it came with said keychain).
Day 3: A girl screamed in his face to move over.
Day 4: He went around the corner in the playground and the supervisor blew the whistle at him. He cried.

Not a huge deal, nothing horrific (like, say, a snake in his rice and beans), but tough on a sensitive little six year old.

Most of his complaints actually have little to do with the environment the school creates. Still, it’s part of a whole. And a wake-up call for me since our 11 year old (who’s been doing this for 6 years now) is only now telling us how chaotic and difficult lunch can be. He says he is squished at his seat, the bench is so low he can barely see his lunchbox and often they don’t have enough time to eat their food. Sharing is strictly forbidden. They’re hustled out the door and reprimanded for dilly-dallying. Basically, they scarf back their food as quickly as possible to get outside and away.

Yesterday my older son said, in a tone of lament, “Poor him (little bro). Most people only start hating lunch by Christmas.”

Wow. Surely it doesn’t have to be so terrible. Researching What’s for Lunch? I read about a school in Britain that changed the atmosphere of its chaotic lunch room simply by adding curtains and having kids design their own table cloths. (See the School Food Trust’s site, here, for more case studies about how schools in Britain improved the lunch experience.)

It baffles me that eating should be considered an ordeal rather than fun or even an educational opportunity. Yes, the part-time lunch supervisors are under-paid and the space isn’t big enough and the kids are loud and there are probably too many of them, but…. but!

I’m going to counsel my First Grader to buck up and sit beside someone who doesn’t laugh at his things or shout in his face but there must be ways of improving the general atmosphere. I’m sure our little school would be receptive to making lunch a happier, less fraught space. Stay tuned.

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