The summer holidays might be just around the corner – but it’s not just the count-down to the season for a week in the sun that’s had me thinking about foreign climes this week.
It’s the many conversations I’ve had recently with people working on school food issues in other countries. Without exception, they want to learn from what we’ve all done, here in England, to improve the food that’s served in our schools.
From the USA to the Middle East and Scandinavia, many countries and local school districts are looking at how to oust the junk and make sure their school meals are giving children the nutrition they need to perform at their best at school. Because, let’s face it, the impact of poor diet for children’s focus and behaviour in class is universal – they eat better, they do better.
What our contacts in other countries are most interested in is how the national school food standards legislation has made a difference for food in our primary and secondary schools. They tell us they’ve seen what’s been achieved here (the near-elimination of all confectionary, crisps, sweets and sugary drinks; the average meal now far lower in fat, sugar and salt; children eating a better balance of foods for lunch and much more fruit and veg on the menu) and they want to replicate and build on it.
At the moment, we’re not aware of any other school food standards system anywhere else in the world which has made so much difference to the food that children eat at school, in such a short space of time.
As our national research has found, the standards aren’t being used perfectly everywhere in England. Particularly in secondary schools, we’re keen to look at how the standards can be further improved so that all pupils are getting even closer to the recommended levels of energy and nutrients they need. There’s still a lot of work to do in all schools before we can be satisfied that every child’s getting an excellent lunchtime, every lunchtime. But the point here is that having a statutory benchmark – for the basics that we expect of all school food – has made such progress compared to other interventions.
We’ve been talking to a number of international projects that are looking at introducing school food standards in different parts of the world. Watch this space for more detail. Here in the UK, as the national discussion about the role of school food standards continues, it’s worth remembering: our school food standards may be some of the toughest in the world, but they’re also the envy of many.
Judy Hargadon OBE is our Chief Executive. Email Judy.