This week, it’s been all about the portion sizes.
In an ATL survey of 500 teachers, comments from four staff were reported about the amount of food children at their schools were getting when they chose a school meal. Cue calls from national papers, an interview on the Daybreak sofa and tweets ahoy.
It’s an issue we do hear about from schools now and again – normally when a particular child’s appetite means they need a bit more to keep them going til the end of school. We find that cooks are fantastic at getting to know their pupils, and they use their expertise to know when certain children need a bit more than the average on the plate. Talk to them if you’ve got a concern about a particular child needing more food, and they’ll want to help.
The national school food standards are also there to help make sure children get enough to eat – they ensure the average meal contains the right levels of energy and nutrients, and they specifically encourage pupils to have an extra filler with their main meal if they need it, like a wholemeal bread roll.
This survey’s too small to tell us if there’s a more widespread problem, but if portions for many children are being squeezed that’s a huge concern. Research shows that kids need a decent meal inside them at lunchtime to reach their potential in class in the afternoon.
And that’s why the issue that this really raises for all teachers is the importance of getting to know your catering team.
Schools where children are getting a great school food service are those where teachers (particularly the senior managers) have a great relationship with the school’s cooks. It means they can make sure feedback from children and parents is really being listened to and used to improve things; work together on projects that will encourage more pupils to try the dining room; tie menus into the term’s events and themes in the curriculum and above all make lunchtime a part of the day to be enjoyed, not dreaded.
It’s so much more difficult to raise concerns if you barely get beyond the pleasantries. Cooks are a vital part of your school day, so recognise that. Meet with them regularly, keep them informed about plans that might affect lunchtime, include them in decisions with which they might help.
They say the kitchen’s at the heart of the home – it’s also at the heart of our schools.
Jo Nicholas is a nutritionist and our Research and Nutrition Senior Manager. Email Jo.