There’s one word I particularly want to focus on from the theme of International School Meals Day 2016, and it’s this: healthy.
Because as the UK government gets ready to publish its national child obesity strategy, it’s worth remembering that one thing that connects schools across continents is that they have more contact with children during their first two decades in life than any other public institution. Children eat at least one, and sometimes two or three meals per day there. So on this ISMD, let’s celebrate school as the invaluable route it is to helping every child eat more healthily, and the vital role it must play in delivering our child obesity strategy.
Much has been written about school food being a nutritional safety net for many children. Often, that makes us think of children living in food poverty; undoubtedly a group for whom school food can be a lifeline. But school meals are also a nutritional safety net for all children: a chance to try new flavours and dishes which they may not experience at home; inspiration to have a go at cooking and learning the skills they’ll need to eat well as adults; help in addressing some of the nutrient deficiencies which affect certain groups regardless of income.
But healthy school food is not just about what’s on the plate: schools continue to need support, access to finance and time to improve the wider experience of food for children. That means giving children the time they need to eat; a dining space which appeals to and inspires them; and the input they should have to design their school meals service, as its customers.
Linda Cregan is CEO of the Children’s Food Trust – read more at www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk or follow the Trust @childfoodtrust