Should schools offer a more exciting variety of meals?

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There’s a good chance your school day memories are dominated by visions of the meals you were served by bespectacled lunch ladies; from turkey twizzlers and chocolate crisp pudding with custard, to that unidentifiable rubber like substance served in a tasteless pink sauce. Everybody has a horror story, or a fond memory, relating to the meals they ate at school. Thankfully, things have changed somewhat over the years, and jacket potatoes and salad have replaced turkey twizzlers. However, with concern regarding childhood obesity rife, are schools doing enough when it comes to healthy eating?

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The evolution of school meals

The name ‘Jamie Oliver’ no doubt strikes fear into the hearts of school canteen workers across the country, for it was his campaign against turkey twizzlers, chips in gravy, and soft drinks that brought the debate of healthy eating in schools to the fore. Parents were discussing the issue long before his involvement though, however, Jamie Oliver’s celebrity status ensured the debate became a matter of public interest.

The criticism of school dinners has been scathing for decades, as child upon child was served fast food, unidentifiable dishes, and meals that were quick and easy, but less than nutritious; such meals were accused of providing wasted calories, of being inherently unhealthy and, above all, being tasteless and uninspiring. It’s certainly true that school meals have come a long way since those days in the 80s and 90s, with healthier options gradually making their way into the canteen, but are schools taking things far enough? There are discernable differences between the menus offered by state and private schools for example, and some schools have been quicker than others to adopt the healthy eating schemes promoted by local authorities. However, more could be done to ensure an exciting and healthy, variety is being offered…

Arguments for a more exciting variety of school meals

It’s time for schools to take inspiration from other countries around the world, which have long been offering their students a variety of flavours, an exciting menu that frequently changes, and a balance of tasty and healthy. But why is an exciting variety so important?

Variety is the spice of life

Research has shown that children tend to consume more fruits and vegetables when they’re given a healthy array by means of a salad bar or buffet-style menu. This style of lunch provides children with access to new foods they’ve not tried before, and allows their tastes to grow and develop.

Healthy eating = improved school work

It’s no secret that healthy eating helps children to control their weight, but it can also improve concentration during lessons, and the quality of sleep a child gets at night. Access to a more exciting variety of school meals inspires children to choose a healthier option, and ensures they’re receiving the right vitamins, minerals, and nutrients necessary to thrive.

Addressing the balance between boys and girls

Boys are far less likely to choose the healthy option than girls and in schools where menus are simple and boring, many would still take the turkey twizzlers over salad. Shaking up school menus gives boys more choice and introduces them to new dishes that they DO want to try. As a school for girls, Hornsey School for Girls perhaps has less to worry about in the school canteen stakes, although a mix of tastes, textures, and colours is still vital for the students that want to make an informed decision about what they’re eating.

Exciting meals banishes the myth

School meals have long been ridiculed for being boring, tasteless, disgusting, or unhealthy, but the offer of an exciting variety can change all that. Children are far more likely to engage with their lunch period and enjoy eating if menus are bold and full of flavour; this engagement with food will stand them in good stead for building a healthier appetite throughout their lives, and hopefully cut instances of childhood obesity.

The need for healthier meals in schools is apparent, regardless of the changes introduced in the last few years by the likes of Jamie Oliver and local authorities. While school meals are heading in the right direction, a greater variety, and more exciting menus, is vital in order to encourage children to eat well – and to ensure that the awful school dinners of yesterday become a thing of the past.

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