A nutritious diet is essential for the health and wellbeing of children and teens who need the right fuel for their growth and development and helping establish lifelong positive eating habits.
Encouraging children from a young age on the importance of a healthy, balanced, nutrient-rich diet is vital, and school meals have an important role to play in that process. In fact, they are at the heart of it, as all too often school meals are the only chance for a child to enjoy a healthy, balanced meal made from scratch using fresh ingredients.
Obesity is a health crisis we can’t ignore. It reduces life expectancy and increases the chance of developing serious illnesses. This impending crisis instigated the launch of the government’s policy paper ‘Tackling Obesity: Empowering Adults and Children to Live Healthier Lives’ in 2020. Reducing obesity in schools is an essential part of this and school meals seen as an important weapon in the fight against childhood obesity.
We’ve come a long way since Jamie Oliver’s ‘Turkey Twizzler’ campaign of 2005, which prompted the introduction of mandatory school food standards to ensure the nutritional quality of food available to school children, along with a reduction in unhealthy junk food options.
Modern school meals are a reliable source of healthy food, providing children with the energy and nourishment to sustain them throughout the day.
The best, proven recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet are outlined in The Eatwell Guide. This government-backed model, published by Public Health England in 2016, was created to represent the principles of a healthy and sustainable diet. It describes a diet that is rich in foods from plants, whilst including some meat, dairy, fish and eggs.
There is evidence, however, that parents need more guidance on how to feed their children healthily at home. A poll of 2,000 parents in 2019 by Boots Kids Vitamins revealed that two-thirds of parents wanted more guidance on how to feed their children a healthy diet.
With many families opting to provide packed lunches for their children it is worrying to note that further research published in 2020 highlighted that less than 2% of packed lunches in primary schools met the recommended nutritional standards.
Our nutritional approach to school meals and menu development at Sodexo, aligned to The Eatwell Guide, means we are able to provide children with one nutritious, balanced meal a day.
A nutritious diet can also lead to significant benefits for children beyond physical wellbeing. A report by Public Health England in 2014 confirmed that pupils with better health are likely to achieve more academically, as well as fare better socially and emotionally. Pupils who were previously underperforming saw an even more noticeable growth in academic achievement, highlighting the negative impact of poor food choices.
Findings from a study published in the BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health in 2021 suggest that public health strategies to optimise the mental well-being of children should include promotion of good nutrition. And by providing them with a varied diet, school meals help children to explore new types of food, including choices that benefit the world at large.