Saturday, March 7, 2009

School lunches and the junk food generation

A while ago I was invited to a networking meeting for school dinner ladies to discuss marketing of school lunches.

Several dinner ladies from large local secondary schools reported selling between zero and ten cooked lunches per day to over 1000 pupils. This is a take-up of less than 1 per cent, in contrast to 70 to 90 per cent at various local primary schools.

One reported that part of the problem is that their school lunch break has been reduced to 25 minutes as a measure to deal with poor behaviour. This does not leave enough time for the children to queue up and eat a proper meal. Another suggested that teenagers perceive healthy eating to be “uncool” and mention of Jamie Oliver is definitely inadvisable.

According to trainers at the local College of Further Education, who were also present, some young people on their courses have never seen a whole chicken – only frozen bits covered in breadcrumbs – and look on in horror as the chefs wield their poultry scissors.

So it seems we have a whole generation of young people raised on ‘ready meals’, whose parents neither support nor appreciate valiant efforts to provide their offspring with nutritious food.

But can we blame parents for this sorry state of affairs?

The cost of living in the UK is now such that it is becoming increasingly necessary for both partners to work to make ends meet. After a full day at work, the last thing most people feel like doing is cooking a meal from scratch. On top of this, successive governments have pulled funding from school meal provision and from teaching cookery in schools.

Reports on the nation's health show that the UK population is suffering disproportionately from disorders such as obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Poor nutrition increases the risk of incidence of all of these conditions. The long-term health of our population is in jeopardy if we do not persuade our young people to eat well, as they will in turn pass on their poor eating habits to their own children.

So what is the solution? More time for children to cook and eat at school and more money to bring the cost of school lunches down would help.

For information on children's nutrition and practical tuition in preparing delicious food for children of different ages, come along to a course on Healthy Cooking for Your Children.

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