World Food Day – Global School Dinner Debate

A couple of weeks ago the BBC’s World Class team hosted an online global chat about school food on World Food Day (16th October).

Children from around the world sent messages about, and photos of their school lunches, and joined in the debate about issues including whether school meals should be free for everybody.

The children’s thoughts and insights were enlightening and thought-provoking, and watching it all play out live in real time was a really wonderful experience.

Here’s a summary of their comments from the two hour conversation.

Kicking off the conversation was Emmanuel from The Sagar School in Rajasthan, India talking about whether children like to eat healthy food.

Emmanuel wrote: “Yes I like to eat what’s good for me because the better you eat, the healthier you become. The good food you eat gives you more energy. You cannot live without food. If you don’t eat food you don’t survive. People in many countries don’t get food. So why waste food? Eat everything you get!”

Also joining the debate were children from Arkatan Primary School in the Arusha region of Tanzania who were online and answering questions from other children. The school are part of the World Food Programme’s ‘Food for Education’ scheme. The WFP provide free porridge and lunch to the pupils every day.

Ghss Kamballur from Kerala, India asked them: “What do you eat there – wheat, rice or any other grain? Is there food scarcity? What do you do in your school to minimise the wasting of food?”

Khaitan Public School in Sahibabad, India sent in some pictures of their lunch but sadly I can’t share the pictures with you.

Pupils from Matero Girls’ High School in Lusaka, Zambia, asked Arkatan School: “How many pupils do you have in the school? What type of food is prepared for the pupils? How do the pupils get to school?”

PSBB KK Nagar in Nagar, Rajasthan, India sent a picture of their lunchtime.

Children from the U.K then joined the debate. Suzie from St Mary’s CEP Primary School in Folkestone, UK sent in a picture of her lunch and wrote: “For my lunch I had mince with mash, peas & carrots. For pudding I had apple crumble & custard, I had water to drink. It was all very nice & I like my school dinners”

Arkatan School sent some answers and a picture back to GHSS Kamballur’s questions:

“We eat maize mixed with beans (makande), morning porridge. For the time being there is drought at our area so there is food scarcity. We prepare food according to school attendances and ration to everybody.”

Chen Chia Ying from Wesley Girls’ High School in Taipei city, Taiwan sent some interesting comments.

“At school, most of the time we have soup, four meat or vegetable dishes, and either rice or noodles for our meals. Students at my school wanted to do something to help the Earth, so a few years ago we started eating vegetarian every Monday. We rarely eat fast food for lunch and junk foods and sugary drinks aren’t allowed in our school. These things help us to remain healthy.”

Joining from South Africa, Danville Park Girls School in Durban shared their thoughts.

Prenisha writes: “At our school a group makes sandwiches for “bread buddies”, that is a scheme where we send the sandwiches to a school which needs them. I love being part of the group because I have seen the smile on the face of the child who receives the sandwiches.”

Arkatan Primary School sent a reply to the questions sent in by Matero Girls High School In Zambia:

“We have 174 Boys and 267 Girls – a total of 390 in the main school. In our pre-school we have 12 boys and 39 girls – a total of 51. They all get maize mixed with beans for lunch, and morning porridge. All pupils attended school on foot.”

The pupils from St Mary’s CEP Primary School in Folkestone returned to share their thoughts on free school meals.

Isabel wrote: “If you live in a poor part of a country like Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria and countries where there have been floods or droughts and the harvest has failed, then I think that all the children should be given free school dinners because your parents won’t have any money to buy food. If you live in a wealthy country most people have enough money to buy food.”

George wrote: “Free school dinners from World Aid, encourage the children in Nepal & other countries to go to school each day and they enjoy school and this helps them to learn more things and they don’t have to starve all day.”

Arkatan Primary School in Tanzania sent some questions for children elsewhere in the world: Where did you get water for cooking in your school? Do you enjoy having lunch in your school? How many cooks do you have?

The Sagar School in Rajasthan, India held a special ‘World Food Day’ assembly and added some more thoughts to the conversation.

Sehej wrote: “I like to eat what’s good for me. I eat healthy food for being fit and active throughout the day. Sometimes, I feel that a change of diet is also a must. So I might just eat junk food once a week. I thank God for whatever he has given to me. Sometimes I also feel that whatever I am getting is more than required and that extra portion should be given to the one who need it most-that is the poor and hungry people.”

Yashika wrote: “I might eat things which may or may not be good for my health. I eat things which I find tasty, but whatever I eat I make sure that I am not overeating or wasting because there are many people starving…”

St Mary’s CEP Primary School in Folkestone, UK came back to say that they are encouraged to bring healthy packed lunches to school. And they sent a photo.

Khaitan Public School in Sahibabad, India, added:

“Our students took a pledge that they would not waste any food on the school campus and they would be more thoughtful towards the people who produce the food.”

Children from Danville Park Girls School in Durban, South Africa watched the short video on the BBC World Class website about lunches in Nepal, Malawi and the UK and shared their thoughts.

Emily wrote: “Watching the BBC clips made me feel very privileged and spoilt, I am grateful for what I have.”

Mariam wrote: “It is very important for children to eat nutritious food, there are many children around the world who have no food to eat. These children should be given food, so that they can concentrate in school.”

Emily and Beth from St Mary’s CEP Primary School in Folkestone, UK added:

“In the UK, only families that don’t or can’t find work should receive money from the government for free school meals. If everyone was able to have a free school meal in the UK, even people who could afford to pay, it would cost the government loads of money & if this was the case we might not have enough money to give to transport food to send away to people in poorer countries of the world.

World Aid should continue to give food to schools as this is sometimes the only food that some children have in a whole day.”

Danville Park Girls School in Durban, South Africa shared what they have for lunch.

Sharlene writes, “I have sandwiches, apple and orange for lunch and apple juice to drink”

Taryn writes, “I have yoghurt, sandwich and fruit, and a snack of sweets and nuts.”

Jitin from The Sagar School in Rajasthan, India wrote: “I didn’t like to eat what is good for me but I still eat it as I know that it will improve my health and clean and energize my body.

“I eat it also because I am aware that many people in the world don’t even get that to eat. If I waste it I feel I have committed a sin as it could have done a lot of good to the many who wake up hungry and sleep hungry, hoping that they might get food the next day.”

Alisha from St Marys CEP School in Folkestone watched the BBC World Class film ‘School lunches in Nepal’ and sent in her thoughts.

“Here in the UK, most of us don’t think about where our food comes from, we just eat it without thinking.

“At school we can even choose what we want to eat from a selective menu and get different meals each day. We also have plenty of tap water that is put in water jugs on our dinner tables.

“In Nepal and some other countries, the children go to school so that they can get a free meal (maybe their only food in a whole day) and that food takes a really long and dangerous journey, that takes several days to reach them.

“They also only have one water pipe coming into their whole village.

“We need to be thankful that we can just go down to the shops to get more food when we need it in England.”

Casey & Mia from St Mary’s CEP Primary in Folkestone, UK both age 9, wrote in after watching the ‘School dinners in Malawi’ film.

“We don’t agree that everyone should automatically get a free school dinner, especially in England,” they wrote.

Joining the BBC World Class debate from Nepal was Amrit from Gyanodaya International Residential School in Kathmandu, saying,

“Yes I would like to eat what is good for me because it provides me with all the nutrients needed for my proper development of body.

“We people of Nepal consider and follow the sayings of Lord Sai Baba that ‘Food IS GOD’”.

“We have some remote places like places of Himalayan region where people have to risk their lives just to get to the nearest shop and buy the food.”

BBC World class added some insight about life at Arkatan school in Tanzania and their participation in the World Food Programme’s ‘Food for Education’ scheme. To run the programme at Arkatan Primary, the community supplies firewood and water. They also helped build the school kitchen and stove.

Abhijeet from The Sagar School in Rajasthan, India wrote: “I don’t like to eat healthy food as most of the food items that are healthy are really not good in taste. But I try some food items as I sometimes think that health comes first. When I got chickenpox, I had to eat food which was healthy for me but extremely bad in taste, but I ate it for the sake of regaining my health faster. So I would say we eat healthy food for health not for taste.”

Amrit from Gyanodaya School in Kathmandu, Nepal, sent a reply to Casey & Mia.

“I think giving free lunch depends upon the condition of the people. In a country like theirs they have less percentage of poverty so their parents can provide them with the food but in a country like mine and India there is high percentage of poverty so schools should make an arrangement to provide free food.”

Khaitan Public School in Sahibabad, India sent a photo of their lunchtime and Shannon at St Mary’s CEP School in Folkstone, UK concluded the debate with an insight into her packed lunch.

It was striking to see the big differences between the schools, and the food the children were eating around the world, as well as their beliefs and opinions about the food.

My thanks to BBC World Class for allowing me to reproduce the debate here. You can join them on Facebook here or track their weekly debates on Twitter using the hashtag #worldclassdebate

US Students say ‘We are hungry’.

Several weeks in to the new school year and whilst many schools are reporting success with the new healthier lunches, not all students are happy with them – in particular the restricted calorie counts.

Kansas school children say ‘set the policy on fire’.

The new rules say that all meals must include at least one fruit or vegetable whether the child will eat it or not, and many kids will take their fruit portion but then drop it straight into the garbage. Grains are switched to 50% wholegrain and from 2014 all will be wholegrain. Carbohydrates and protein is restricted and all milk is fat free or reduced fat.

The changes are part of the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids bill which came into law earlier this year and is designed to get kids eating far more healthily and to help curb frightening levels of child obesity in the US, but the calorie restrictions are a big change to what many kids are used to.

For kindergarten to 5th grade children the calories are set at 550 – 650 calories, 6th to 8th grade children get between 600 and 700 calories, and 9th to 12th grade teens are served meals of between 750 to 850 calories.

There have been some fantastic early success stories, like the Nebraska schools which have been recognised and awarded for reaching the gold standard in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge. Kitchen staff now all wear gold pins and the students were told by the USDA regional administrator that she would tell Washington politicians about their story.

Seven Lincoln district schools have all been recognised not only for their healthier lunches but also for their excellent wellbeing programmes and physical education.

But elsewhere some children are unhappy with their lunches. A CNN report here details how a Capac, Michigan school boy started posting pictures of his lunches to Facebook and began a boycott of the school cafeteria.

Similarly in Parsippanny New Jersey 1,000 students boycotted their school canteen bringing lunch bags instead. The children say they are left hungry by their restricted calorie meals. Moves like this could be disastrous for school caterers who will need to act fast to change things around or face big financial losses.

Meanwhile a YouTube music video called We Are Hungry has received almost a million hits. The video which is a spoof of the song We Are Young was put together by students at a Kansas school who say their new meals are not filling and they go home feeling hungry.

UK caterers have faced a similar – well publicised – early backlash to healthier school meals. Perhaps they can offer their US counterparts some advice on how to cope with bad news stories like this and act quickly to get their students back on side and in the dining halls.

We Are Hungry

School Food and the BBC Food and Farming Awards

The BBC Radio 4 Food Programme has announced its shortlist for the 2012 Food and Farming Awards and there are a number of schools related projects or workers that have made the grade.

They include, (and I hope the BBC Food Programme website will forgive me for recreating their words verbatim)

In the Best Public Caterer category:

Lyndsey Anderson – Excelsior Academy, Newcastle. Excelsior Academy is a community mixed school serving the Benwell and Scotswood area of Newcastle upon Tyne. The nomination said, “I am truly impressed with the philosophy and attention to detail of the food choices, menus and presentation of the food.”

Elaine Harrison – Pingle School, Swadlincote. The Pingle School is a foundation school within Derbyshire. The nomination said, “Theme days are a regular feature of the service and have recently included French days, Spanish days and a special Jubilee day serving traditional food in a street party atmosphere.”

Chris Marshall – Scalby School, Scarborough. Scalby School is for boys and girls of all abilities aged 11-16, serving Scarborough and surrounding villages. The nomination said, “95% of all ingredients are sourced from within North Yorkshire to ensure green miles are reduced from field to plate & good growth in the local economy.”

and in the Derek Cooper Award category:

Chefs Adopt a School, is focused on the education and training of young people in the hospitality industry through the provision of career opportunities; recognising and rewarding talent and skill; and raising standards and awareness of food, food provenance, cooking and service. The nomination said “Chefs Adopt a School has opened a special door to the world of food… teaching about a range of food, where it comes from, why we need it, what to do with it, how to handle it and how to enjoy it in the company of others.”

Let’s Get Cooking, Sheffield. By the end of this five-year programme 1,106,300 children, family members and members of the local community will increase their food preparation or cooking skills as a result of Let’s Get Cooking. The nomination said “Let’s Get Cooking is about much more than cooking skills, it brings people together and builds social skills, reflecting the very best of human nature.”

Martha Payne, Scotland. This school girl’s food blog, Never Seconds, and her pictures and reviews of her school lunch is now being read all over the world, fuelling debate about how we feed our children. The nomination said “A young child not only writing about food, but writing well, generating more writing from other young people all over the world and in the process raising interest and discussion. Not to mention changing fundamentally the relationship some children in Malawi have with food – by raising an astonishing sum to ensure they actually have some.”

I know many in schools catering feel their work is overlooked or constantly criticised, rather than celebrated when things are going well or are making a difference, so that the Food and Farming Awards are striving to mark and recognise great achievements and good practice in schools catering is wonderful. We offer our congratulations to all the finalists and best wishes for the awards day on 28th November.

Best practice and innovation in school food around the world