Please do not feed the kids

I read an interesting article in The Guardian by Carrie Quinlan today. In it she writes about our beloved education secretary Michael Gove. There’s not much money hanging around at the moment as we know and Mr Gove has decided in his wisdom that money potentially ear-marked for an expansion of the free school meal scheme for children living below the poverty line  is better spent on a fund to encourage councils, head teachers and private businesses to turn around failing schools. It’s a tough decision- feeding children or better schools? Quinlan’s stand is that school meals are more important at the moment but judging by the comments on the article there’s a lot of interest in the subject. 

Just say no, kids.

School meals are something I know about: I remember how dreadful they were a few years ago and how hard some of us tried to improve them at local level, being dismissed at every turn- after all, schools are about education and teaching and not about providing cordon bleu meals and restaurant standard dining rooms.  Or are they?

 Then along came tousle-haired pukka pixie Jamie Oliver to remind us that food and water are the basics of life and local councils were suddenly shamed into providing better funding and better catering contracts for schools. Catering companies had to review how they operated- chucking out the fizzy pop and chocolate that makes money and adhering to tricky nutrient-based standards. Parent power has been instrumental in this and parent campaign groups sprang up all over the place like the now famous Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools group. Before we knew it, kitchens were being built and improved, hot meals cooked from scratch and numbers of children taking a school meal shooting up. There’s still a long way to go. Standards are not always as good as they could be in secondary schools in particular. I was in a school just this morning where there were all sorts of nutrition crimes being committed in break service.

 For many poorer children this may be the only good quality meal they have during the day and parents should be secure in the knowledge that their children are getting feed properly at school. You have to be pretty poor to actually qualify for free school meal and I suspect that more children will become eligible as more and more people find themselves without work.

 Food is a basic of life. The link between a healthier diet and attainment at school has been well documented. Children have smaller systems and need carbohydrate-heavy meals to keep the going and sugar, e-numbers and caffeine have a greater effect on their growing frames than on an adult’s.  Schools already have to cope with children who have been fed huge amounts of sugar at breakfast (if they have breakfast at all), children who have tucked into crisps, chocolate and so called energy drinks on the way to school and pack some extras in their bags for break and lunch.

 It’s already a battle to get children and young people to eat healthier foods as well as junk and the poorest are the most vulnerable. So better schools or better food? Yes, we need superb schools with excellent head teachers but unless the basic physical and emotional needs of children are met they won’t make the maximum of difference. Is it too much to ask for both for our children?

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6 Responses to Please do not feed the kids

  1. J.G.Harston says:

    I was one of those kids in the ’70s where my school lunch *was* my one hot cooked meal of the day. But, of course, schools providing meals means reduced demand for out-of-school spending. So, the twin approaches of persuading parents/kids to buy snacks/food outside school and the pressure to “liberate” schools from local authority catering and let private companies into schools.

    And of course, healthy nutritious food isn’t profitmaking so they go for the cheapest content at the highest price.

    And how on earth can they advertise things like Dairylee Lunchboxes as being a *meal*! It’s no more than two mouthfuls!

    • citizenr says:

      Don’t even get me started on the crap that is marketed to parents as being good healthy for children. The lunchables contain huge amounts of salt and have you ever looked at the list of ingredients on a fruit shoot? Ugh.

  2. guerrillamum says:

    I’m a great believer in a good meal at lunchtime. At 14 and 12 our children have ‘just’ stopped complaining about our no-sugar breakfasts of porridge, eggs or weetabix (please don’t tell me they’ve put sugar in the weetabix!) – they were persistent, but I was more persistent! They go to a school that was built in the fifties and the school now has a roll more than five times its original intake. The canteen cannot accommodate all of the children at lunch hour as it is too small. If I gave my boys the money they would buy food from the food dispensing machines brought in to help ease the canteen crush, which are not so healthy, so I send them to school with a packed lunch. It works for us, but I am well aware that not all children needing it are provided with a healthy lunch box from home every day. Yes, we all want to improve our schools but I think those children who really need free school meals should be the priority and I take great exceptioin to any government plans to divert money away from providing free school meals to those children who need them. Ellen P

  3. citizenr says:

    Good for you for sticking by your guns! I’ve seen some absolute horrors of lunchboxes over the years, very few are properly balanced. Many secondary schools have that problem of overcrowding in the canteen. See if you can get a local company to sponsor the purchase of some barstools and long bars for that cafe feel.

  4. Jackie Schneider says:

    Great post. Absolutely agree – schools need to meet the basic needs of their students. Please sign up to The Children’s Food Campaign – we are working with anti poverty campaigners and health professionals to defend decent school food in every school. We thought we had established this as a principle even though there is a long way to go to make it a reality particularly in secondary schools. However this principle is not accepted by the present government and we need to stop them turning the clock back.

    • citizenr says:

      Thanks, Jackie. Good luck in your continued battle to get good food in every school for every pupil, especially those tricky secondary schools. Do drop by again.

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