Making minor adjustments to school lunches could benefit the well-being of many children in the United Kingdom. There are plenty of practical ways to make them healthier. Any educational institution could incorporate these changes.
1. School Gardens
Growing produce in a garden is somewhat involved, but the health benefits can be tremendous. It’s a constant source of fresh, local ingredients. The children can even help tend to it to save staff’s time.
On top of being a fun educational experience, it benefits pupils’ wellbeing. They’ll usually eat much healthier if they grow the food themselves because they want to try it. Many aren’t partial to vegetables, so getting them more excited to eat them is a great approach.
Many institutions have programs where children are responsible for their food. For example, Greenside primary school has them grow and harvest their own lunches in the garden. These meals are entirely vegetarian but can also serve as side dishes.
2. Proper Equipment
Schools that move toward healthier lunches need proper refrigeration equipment. Food with fewer preservatives requires stable, cool temperatures to stay safe longer. Thankfully, the right systems are usually affordable, and schools can invest their savings in even better ingredients.
Industrial chillers may be a more practical solution, as typical commercial versions only last roughly five years before needing significant repairs. Finding sustainable equipment is necessary, as it helps keep food safe and is less expensive.
3. Salad Bar
A balanced diet should be colorful and full of fresh produce, but most children in the United Kingdom need more than they’re getting. Excessively processed food accounts for around 64% of school lunch calories in primary and secondary schools. Providing them with better options is essential.
A salad bar is simple yet effective. The Department for Education’s guide to food standards states children need lots of vegetables and fruit to stay healthy. This method lets them choose which ones they want to eat every day. They’re more likely to grab a nourishing side if they have multiple options in front of them.
4. Children’s Input
Over 50% of waste in school comes from lunches. While piling vegetables on kids’ plates seems like a good thing, they usually toss what they don’t like. Asking for input is a practical and effective way to make their food healthier.
Schools can let pupils choose from a list of nourishing options, preventing them from requesting only their favorite fried foods. They’re more likely to finish what’s on their plate if they pick it out themselves.
5. Balanced Ingredients
Balancing the presence of each food group is one of the most practical ways to make school lunches healthier. Children should get a mixture of fruits, vegetables, starches, and proteins. Minor menu changes could help significantly. Plus, having various options can encourage them to finish their meals, which is more sustainable.
6. Free Lunches
Making fresh, filling food daily can be time-consuming for mothers, so packed lunches often contain processed items. Free lunches are a practical solution. Schools could mandate what kids can pack, but providing a healthy alternative at no cost is more effective.
Many institutions have special programs for this issue. For instance, the Welsh government is determined to make primary school lunches free for every child by 2024, with progress already underway for most in years one and two.
7. Nutrition Education
Proper education is essential. Children should learn about what they’re eating and why they should want to choose healthier options. Convincing them to eat produce would be easier if they knew how it helped them grow and feel better. Schools can teach them about nutrition to encourage better choices.
8. Farm-To-Fork Programmes
Farm-to-fork programs involve getting local farmers to provide fresh produce to schools. It’s somewhat uncommon, but it’s great for the environment. Plus, experts believe it can benefit pupils. For instance, the European Commission feels minimum requirements for sustainable food sourcing can make school lunches healthier.
9. Lunch Guidelines
Thorough guidelines can help people who pack lunches. For example, they could explain the healthiest and most sustainable ingredients. Specific food recommendations and shopping suggestions could be useful for those who need guidance.
Children bringing food from home should be able to benefit from a healthy environment like those who eat school lunches. Staff can’t pack their food for them but can guide them to make better choices.
10. Nutrition Information
A nutrition and ingredients list alongside each menu item could guide students to make better choices. For example, a simple label on a fruit is usually much more appetizing than a paragraph detailing every unhealthy additive. It puts what they eat into perspective, helping them recognize how their lunch affects them.
Making School Lunches Healthier
Children benefit from having fresh alternatives to processed foods. Schools can make minor changes to what they serve or how they educate to make lunches much healthier. Every bit of effort can improve their pupils’ wellbeing.
Jane is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.