Tag Archives: school lunch in England

FREE teacher’s resources

What’s for Lunch? was created for kids, their parents and teachers to initiate discussions about food and the way it connects to so many issues that we all care about. Things like the environment, poverty, hunger, our health and the health of our communities.

cafeteria-tray.pngBut reading the book is just the beginning. I hope families and educators will use it as a bouncing-off point for more in-depth discussions. That’s why, with the help of my publisher, Red Deer Press, I’ve created a FREE Teaching Guide for use in classrooms everywhere. The guide has questions aimed at initiating talk about what kids eat around the world, teaching ideas inspired by the book’s content, blacklines for easy printout—all downloadable here. (It’s about 5 MB.)

There are curriculum connections to health and nutrition, environmental sustainability, diversity, urban/rural connections, media education and much more. From the Pizza Pie game to Untangling the Food System to a more in-depth session we call The Lottery of Life, I hope these resources will inspire teachers to bring the ideas in What’s for Lunch? into their classroom. I’d love to hear how it goes. Email me (andrea at andreacurtis dot ca) and let me know!

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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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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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The 21st century gingerbread house

Like many city kids his age who must take various buses and streetcars to school, my older son has a cell phone with a modest plan he uses mostly for texting. This month when I opened the bill, there was an extra $13 tagged onto it. I immediately asked him what that was all about (we’ve agreed any  charges on top of the basic bill are his responsibility) but he had no idea. The cell service was more certain. Seems he inadvertently enlisted himself in some “subscription” by downloading what he was told was free music.

My son is a pretty savvy kid. He’s knows his way around technology, too, but, like most of us, didn’t read the fine print.

I thought of this devious marketing trick (and my son’s bewilderment) as I read a fascinating report put out jointly by The Children’s Food Campaign (part of Sustain UK) and the British Heart Foundation called “The 21st century gingerbread house: how companies are marketing junk food to children online” (available for free download—no hidden subscription fees involved!).

Researchers conducted content analysis of 100 food brand product websites in the UK, and discovered that food companies have come up with a huge variety of techniques to promote junk food to kids.  TV advertising has long been regulated to ensure kids aren’t getting sold crap food every two seconds, but the internet remains the wild west, with vague regulations that marketers have easily eluded.

Using cartoons, animations, brand characters, competitions, promotions (free stuff—no kid can resist free stuff), games, quizzes, free downloads, etc. these companies are building brand loyalty one 10 year old at a time.

Of course, schools and parents have a key role in helping educate their children about how to be smart consumers (of both websites and junk food), but this is very insidious stuff—it’s not easy to identify some of these sites as advertising. (Not unlike my son thinking he was simply downloading free music but instead passively “signing up” for some expensive subscription.)  With a diet-related health crisis on our hands, there’s no question we need stronger regulations of junk food marketing (wherever it occurs) in order to support kids to make good choices.

As Charlie Powell, Campaigns Director for the Children’s Food Campaign writes: “…research has now shown that the marketing of unhealthy foods to children influences not only which brands they choose, but the overall balance of their diet. Unsurprisingly, it encourages children to eat energy-dense fatty, sugary or salty foods rather than more nutritious options. If marketing didn’t work, the food industry wouldn’t devote multi-million pound budgets to developing slick campaigns to spread their messages.”

Check out also Sustain’s “Dodgiest junk food marketing claims” of 2011. A public poll determined that Chupa Chups’ suggestion that its yellow lollipops were made with only real lemon juice was the most egregious marketing claim. Seems there’s only 3 per cent real fruit in the suckers.

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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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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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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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