Over the last decade or so, the humble school dinner has come under the microscope. Celebrity campaigns and political advocacy alike have meant that, when choosing schools for their children, food standards are high up on every parent’s checklist.
And it is easy to see why. Both anecdotal evidence and official studies continue to show a strong correlation between healthy eating and performance – academically, socially, and in the sporting arena. Children with diets lacking in essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids do not perform as well academically. They can also lack concentration, and have been cited to be more disruptive in the classroom.
With sport a key component of school life, schools have a duty to ensure that pupils have the necessary fuel to compete with gusto on the track or field. A healthy diet and good physical fitness are the cornerstones of a healthy life ahead. Globally, obesity is affecting nearly 30% of society, and as a result conditions such as diabetes, poor development, osteoporosis and iron deficiency are on the rise.
Food education in our schools now plays a key role in tackling this issue. Not only should our children be eating healthy meals, they must also be taught how to grow, source, prepare and cook healthy ingredients. This can be achieved by working more closely with local food producers and setting policy on ethical, sustainable and high welfare standards. All of these, in turn, require well-trained school catering teams.
This carefully balanced strategy will also encourage pupils to make positive choices of their own accord. Schools must provide more than just academic lessons: they must instil life lessons.
“Choosing ingredients that will slowly release energy is key to ensuring our pupils can perform on the sports field,” advises Damian Blake, Holroyd Howe’s Executive Chef. “Replacing carbohydrates like white rice and pasta with complex carbohydrates like wholemeal rice, or protein-based substitutes like quinoa, makes a huge difference. Adding handfuls of lentils, or other pulses, to soups and ragouts provides additional energy, as do good-quality cheese, eggs, meat and fish.”
Healthy hit list
Damian’s ten top ingredients for healthy, delicious school catering
âœ” Wholemeal pasta
âœ” Wholemeal breads
âœ” Chunky soups
âœ” Sweet potato
âœ” Pulses, such as lentils
âœ” Honey, instead of sugar
âœ” Chargrilled lean meat and fish
âœ” Free-range eggs