Telling children that giving up burgers, crisps and cola could save their arteries from furring and reduce their risk of heart disease in 30 years’ time, not only puts you at risk of scaremongering, it also doesn’t ‘work’.
While you may just get some traction around ‘too much sugar makes your teeth fall out’ or ‘chocolate gives you spots’ (there is no sound research to prove it does), as any parent, carer or teacher knows, threats linking food choices to health outcomes in the hope of seeing them turn their back on brilliantly marketed, colourful, sugar- and fat-packed favourites are fairly futile.
What does seem to inspire thought, interest and ultimately change in behaviour, however, is when we take the time to reveal to children the links in our dietary behaviour to its impact on the planet.
Try explaining, for example, that it takes 1.92 litres of water to make 1 litre of cola1. In its most simple form, the message is clear. Turning on a tap to hydrate rather than buying a bottle or can of drink reduces your water footprint, virtually by half, in an instant. And that’s before you start thinking about the impact on natural resources around the production and disposal of the plastic bottle or can the cola comes in.
Nowhere in this message have you had to mention that swapping a 500ml bottle of cola for water saves over 13 teaspoons of sugar, which is better for long-term health.
Turning on a tap to hydrate rather than buying a bottle or can of drink reduces your water footprint, virtually by half, in an instant
We welcomed the study published in January in The Lancet medical journal2, revealing how feeding a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production and reducing food waste.
Tell a child or teenager that their love of junk food could raise their blood pressure and you can expect a yawn and a bored raising of the eyebrows. Plant the seed that a transformation of the global food system is urgently needed because food production is exceeding planetary boundaries and driving climate change, then you may get a flicker of interest.
Explain how eating the way we do in the West is leading to loss of biodiversity, pollution due to over-application of fertilisers and unsustainable changes in water and land use, and they may just want to learn more about how their food choices can help create change and ignite an interest in finding out what they can do to make a difference.
This could include asking what their parents can do to change the shopping list at home and questioning what food manufacturers, supermarkets, fast food outlets, high- street coffee shops, and their school lunch providers are doing to help create and live within a sustainable food production system.
CH&CO Independent takes the provision of healthy diets from sustainable food systems seriously. We champion intrinsically nutritious food, including the use of a higher proportion of more sustainable sources of nutritious protein, such as beans, lentils and tofu, switching to less-processed, wholegrain starchy carbohydrates and using more vegetables and fruits, while lowering sugars and fats. Our chefs do this while creating simple, delicious meals that crucially, pupils enjoy and want to eat. And, we tell pupils what we’re doing and how small changes in food choices can have a big impact on the environment.
The bottom line is, using the right ingredients as the starting point creates dishes that are not just good for the present and future health of growing children and teenagers, but are good for the future of the planet too. And that’s something we can all get behind!