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School meals: Who is responsible for healthy eating?

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In the beginning…

School meals have certainly been in the spotlight these last few years along with healthy eating campaigns and childhood obesity issues. For many parents, getting their children to eat the right kinds of food has been a battle since they were in nappies. As they progress through school, grow up and start to get a little more freedom during break times, ensuring our children are eating the correct foods while at school can become a little trickier. The local chippy might be more appealing and cheaper than a healthy meal option but a regular diet of high saturated fat and sugars will have a detrimental effect on their health. So when our kids are at school, is it the school that should be responsible for their meal decisions or should we as parents be taking more responsibility for the choices our children are making at meal times – Who is responsible for healthy eating?

Establishing healthy eating habits

We all know that if you eat too much of the wrong kinds of food you will gain weight and expose yourself to health issues such diabetes or heart disease. Kids are often very lazy when it comes to eating and when given the choice, opt for the unhealthy, easy option. When they start school, unless they take a packed lunched which parents have provided, school meals are usually the first occasions when they have free reign over what they have to eat. This means that establishing good eating habits and a healthy attitude towards food is even more imperative at a younger age.

If you’re child is a ‘fussy’ eater or hasn’t been introduced to a balanced diet at home, then the problem will continue throughout school. A child that doesn’t eat a healthy diet at home won’t suddenly become adventurous in their meal choice at school; given the option of burger and chips or a healthy pasta salad, they probably won’t be choosing the latter!

School meals

School meals: who is responsible for healthy eating

Schools have certainly taken steps forward in making their school meals healthier. There have been limitations set on the amount of processed foods or those high in saturated fat and the introduction of a greater choice on offer. This has had a positive impact on children’s health and their academic achievements. However, short of banning any unhealthy option or forcing children to eat salad and vegetables, they are limited in how they control what kids eat in school, especially when they are older and allowed out at lunchtimes. While schools certainly do have a responsibility over what food they provide on their premises, parents should be setting the standards at home and encouraging children to try new foods and understand the benefits a balanced diet will provide.

The forbidden fruits

That doesn’t mean banning all unhealthy foods either. On the contrary, kids who are denied the occasional meal of nuggets and chips or grow up with the belief that turkey twizzles are the forbidden fruits, may over indulge in all the food they shouldn’t, once they have the choice or freedom to decide their meals at school. But as all parents know, it’s getting kids interested in healthy food at home which can be the problem.

If this is the case, make healthy food more interesting, get them involved with cooking from an early age and help them understand that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or tasteless. Make up healthy snack bowls and arrange food in a fun way on their plate to make it more appealing. Home made healthy pizzas or creating your own pasta sauces in the blender are great ways of involving children in the cooking and developing their food knowledge.

Educate them about food

When kids have a better understanding of what goes into a meal they establish a healthier relationship with food. Start to give them more independence in the meal choice from an earlier age in order to help them understand the importance of making the correct food choices. When shopping ask what they would like in their lunch boxes or sit down and discuss meal plans for the week, that way, when they are in situations where they can make the choice of what they want to eat, they will be more inclined to pick a healthier option.

Food coaches

School meals: who is responsible for healthy eating

In the US, some schools are introducing the idea of parent volunteers to acts as ‘food coaches’, handing out fruit and vegetable samples and demonstrating how to eat certain foods. This may sounds a little extreme but kids who only ever eat finger foods or nuggets and chips may not even know how to use cutlery or eat off the bone chicken and as a result, be put off trying new foods as they don’t know how to eat them. They may not have seen a huge array of various foods and would therefore never pick them off a menu. By being given small samples, they can be introduced to new flavours and textures without committing to a full meal.

As well as food coaches, having popular students act as food ambassadors and dish out the vegetables or having the senior kids provide samples of new food on the menu can all help encourage children to broaden their food horizons.

Set an example

Obesity is costing the NHS millions every year and bad eating habits are costing our children their health. While it is clear that schools play a pivotal role in providing our children with the correct nutrition and educating them on the importance of healthy eating, as parents, we should begin that education as soon as possible within the home, enabling children to make better informed meal choices when they are at school and then in later life.

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About Rebecca Robinson

About Rebecca Robinson

After spending the last 8 years juggling life as a mum of two, wife and working full time as a Project Manager for a global telecommunications company, Rebecca Robinson made the decision to follow her love of writing and took the plunge; turning her passion into a full time career. Since becoming a full time writer, Rebecca has worked with various media and copy-writing companies and with the ability to make any topic relevant and interesting to the reader, now contributes to The Working Parent on articles ranging from credit cards to teenage relationships. Ever the optimist, Rebecca's dreams for the future include a house in the country filled with children, dogs and horses in the field!

Website: Rebecca Robinson

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