2016 Blog – The importance of school food and food education

Dr Allan talks about the importance of school food and food education

This Government wants all our children get the best start in life. To help achieve that, we need to do what we can to improve their health and wellbeing – what they eat while at school has a role to play.

Almost 8 years ago, all parties in the Scottish Parliament supported the law establishing food standards for all of Scotland’s schools. We had already begun to transform school food through the introduction of Hungry for Success in 2003.  We all recognised the importance of providing our children and young people with a meal that would not only support their physical development but also reinforce the messages they are being taught in the classroom about the impact food choice has on their overall health and wellbeing.

Since then, we have introduced a number of policies that support good food choices including Beyond the School Gates, Better Eating Better Learning and Catering for Change to name but a few.  Most recently, we extended free school meal eligibility to all children in P1 to P3, meaning 120,000 children benefit and saving their families up to £380 per child per year.  This also means that the school food standards are now more important than ever to ensure that children are offered  a balanced and nutritious school meal.  The impact of austerity and welfare reform measures mean more children are growing up in poverty in Scotland and low incomes can make it difficult for some families to ensure their children get the nutrition they need in meals at home. Providing healthy lunches at school can help families and their children.

Government, agencies and organisations need to work together be emphasised enough and partnership working is a key theme throughout ‘Better Eating Better Learning’.  This is true at central and local government level but equally, if not more so, at a local community level.  Children, parents, teachers, caterers and wider community all have a role to play in ensuring that our children and young people are taught about the importance of good food choices to their overall health and wellbeing and, importantly, are shown what such choices looks like on a plate.

The theme for this year’s International School Meals Day is ‘fresh, healthy and local’ allowing us to highlight another benefit of our approach to school meals. Through Curriculum for Excellence, children in Scottish schools are taught about food in its widest sense, encompassing culture, advertising and labelling.  This learning has been further enhanced with a food education fund package designed to bring to life the lessons our children receive about the importance of making good food choices and the wider social, economic and environmental impact our food choices have.  These are all vital parts of an overarching policy which articulates our aspiration that Scotland should become a ‘Good Food Nation’, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from the food they buy, serve and eat day by day.

I was delighted to visit Penicuik High school yesterday to help mark International Schools Meals Day.  I saw first-hand the excellent work in this school to ensure pupils are given the opportunity to explore the links between food, health and the environment.  The school runs  a Better Eating, Better Learning project supported by a partnership between caterers, teachers, pupils and the local community.  Children are very much taking the lead in making changes to the way school food and food education is delivered – just as they should be under Curriculum for Excellence!  The school’s focus is on fresh, local produce, tasty school lunches and most importantly, listening to pupils ideas about how to make improvements to what they are offered and taught.  Only by working together like this will we ensure that our children and young people leave school equipped with the knowledge, skills and experience they need to make good food choices for the benefit of their health, the economy and the environment.  I wish you all a very happy International School Meals Day!

Alasdair Allan is the Scottish Government’s Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages

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