Tag Archives: school lunches

News round-up

It’s been a while between stories, so here’s a neat little round-up of innovations in school food around the world that caught our eye over the past few days.

In the US, school food provider Preferred Meal Systems has an online service that lets parents find out more about the menu and nutritional content of their children’s lunches and school breakfasts.

By logging onto www.schoolmenu.com parents in some districts will be able to access the nutrition information of each meal. And of course the meals now adhere to the new standards. The information is accessible in pop-ups as the cursor moves over the page.

Other information on payment etc. is also available, and there will also be blogs and information from a panel experts. You can read more about it here.

 

Researchers have shown that caterers can use the same techniques that marketers use to sell junk food, to help children make healthier choices in the canteen.

In advertising it’s not unusual to use familiar cartoon characters, TV icons and superheroes to sell cereals, pasta shapes or sweets, but researchers at Cornell University New York found that using well known characters on healthy products would also prompt children to choose them.

So when apples had an Elmo sticker (from Sesame Street) children picked them rather than choosing cookies or sweets. Read the original report with a link to the Cornell findings here.

 

There’s an interview here with Kate Adamick who has a new book out called Lunch Money: Serving Healthy School Food in a Sick Economy.

She runs a Lunch Teachers boot camp which teaches school caterers how to budget effectively and still serve fresh healthy meals.

 

School Nutrition Association in the USA has conducted a survey of foodservice professionals in the nation’s schools and found that more than 90% of those responding think that meeting the new standards will incur greater costs, and 67% of districts believe that the federal reimbursement for school meals will not cover the cost of producing them.

So, many have got creative when it comes to encouraging students to try and therefore buy the meals. More than 87% were doing taste tests with students on new menu items, and therefore engaging students in menu selection, while others were offering free samples to promote familiarity with new dishes. You can read the full report here.

 

In Rhode Island USA school caterer Sodexo has teamed up with a local farm which will produce fresh fruit and vegetables for schools in 11 communities. The Pezza Farm has turned over 15 acres to the project which will enable kids to eat fresh, local produce as part of their school lunches.

 

This Washington Post feature describes how school cafeterias in the US are using supermarket display techniques to encourage students to eat more fruit and veg. By placing bright bowls in easy to grab places kids were taking fruit more regularly, and some operators even taking fruit out into the playground for children to eat on the spot.

Others were marketing veg using labels like ‘mellow yellow corn’ to make their dishes sound more interesting, or using competition promotions to encourage children to make healthier choices, or even trying surprising and challenging ideas to throw down the gauntlet on hard to please kids with ‘Fear Factor Smoothies’ containing different ingredients like spinach.

But it seems to be paying off because teachers are already feeding back that classroom behaviours are improving.

 

A complete overhaul of the school cafeterias in Palm Beach County has renewed interest in school lunches as the restaurants now resemble a modern food court.

Instead of the standard counters and lines, in the ‘Cafe Atlantic’ students can visit different stands including Asian Xperience, Café Sol y Mar (Spanish), Mangia Mangia (Italian), Atlantic Gourmet Deli and Beyond Burgers to get their lunches.

As well as being modern and appealing to trendy teens, the stands reduce queues and waiting times for students who also benefit from better seating and four flat screen TVs.

The improvements have been a big hit with students at Atlantic High and will be rolled out to other schools in the area. Here’s the full report.

 

And finally, a new study has shown that changing the food that’s available in vending machines may be the best way to slow childhood obesity.

The study in the journal Pediatrics tracked teens in 40 states over three years and found a strong correlation between the children’s weight and the state rules governing so-called ‘competitive foods’ which are the freely available vended food and drinks outside the usual lunch programme.

Students in states which had strict laws on the kinds of food and drinks available in vending machines gained on average 2.2 lb less than those living in states that did not have such strict legislation, or even none at all.

Similarly, children that were overweight in the fifth grade had a much better chance of attaining a healthy BMI by the time they reached the eighth grade in states with laws, than those without.

This could show that in order for the new nutritional standards on school lunches to have the full effect, uniform laws on the products available from vending machines will also have to be introduced nation-wide. The full story can be read here.

 

Paying twice for packed lunch in Spain

A troubling development in school lunches emerged in Spain this week. The government has announced that schools could begin to charge parents who choose to send their children to school with a packed lunch when the new term begins.

The story was widely reported across the globe but was initially picked up by The Telegraph.

Counting the packed lunch pennies

The charge to be levied against parents amounts to €3 (£2.36) a day and is deemed to be for the cost associated with children using the dining room and associated supervision.

In Spain school children have a long two hour lunch break and it has been usual for them to eat a hot lunch in the canteen. Parents pay a monthly fee of about €4.50 per day (£3.50). Schools make a profit from the lunches and the extra is used to fund things not covered by their education budgets.

Grants have been available to assist low income families with school meals, but Spain has been caught up in the Euro economic crisis and austerity measures imposed by the government have forced regional education boards to make cuts.

With unemployment rising to 25%, many families had begun to look to save money by sending their children to school with a packed lunch. The new charge will largely negate any savings they might have made, but school councils have argued that the fee is necessary to pay their catering contractors for canteen equipment and staff providing supervision.

Parents have reacted angrily and the situation has not been helped by regional differences in the charge. In the Catalonia region parents will be asked to pay up to €3, but in Valencia the fee will be no more than €1.45 per day.

Meanwhile Spanish finance minister for Madrid, Percival Manglano, announced on Tuesday that it would be up to individual school boards to decide what – and whether – they will charge.

In the Madrid region €26 million have been cut from grants for school meals and text books in the new school year, so it’s easy to see why parents have begun to choose packed lunches.

Parent groups have pointed out that the charges will affect the worst off in society, and have even warned that it may lead to some children having to skip the meal completely. President of the Catholic Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, Luis Carbonel was quoted saying, “It seems excessive to charge to fill the dining room or for use of a microwave. It may mean that those hardest up might choose instead to feed their children big breakfasts to see them through to the evening meal at home.” Meanwhile Jesus Maria Sanchez, president of the Spanish Confederation of Associations of Parents called the charge “barbaric”.

I wonder what schools caterers in the UK make of this development? They have battled through tough times in recent years when meal uptakes dropped right off following the initial school food changes seven years ago. I wonder if any of them ever considered charging kids who brought a packed lunch?

Currently free school meals offer caterers a degree of cushioning from hardship. If you’re providing meals in an area where few can afford them, a good take up of free school meals and the pupil premium that comes with it can help caterers to stay afloat.

But the massive shake up of the benefits system that’s due in 2013 in the UK when Universal Credit replaces all the current benefits, has the potential to create a big impact on schools caterers. A working party has been looking at ways to incorporate free school meals into the new system without seeing families lose out, but has struggled to find a solution that avoids the ‘cliff edge’ that Universal Credit hopes to eliminate.

An obvious solution is to take free school meals out of the benefits system and instead give it to local councils who already determine Council Tax benefits for low income families, and also control the budget to local schools, but in the long term, could this lead to the very situation we’re now seeing in Spain should the recession continue?

Once again school meals proves to be a difficult and potentially thorny political issue that is far less black and white than simply ensuring kids are well fed at school. It would be interesting to hear what caterers think about this situation.

What calorie restrictions?

Having posted today about the calorie restrictions the USDA have imposed on school lunches in the United States, and chatted on Twitter with Victoria McGowan a PhD candidate at Durham University who is studying the relationship between school food and childhood obesity, I thought I would post this short clip taken from a BBC 2 documentary this week called Eat, Fast, and Live Longer which investigated whether a diet that included fasting or extreme calorie restriction could have dramatic effects on a person’s weight and health.

This restaurant in the United States is doing the exact opposite of what the USDA is doing with school meals. In fact they have a burger combo that boasts a ridiculous 10,000 calories. They are un-shamefaced about how unhealthy their food is, and believe it’s their right to eat badly if they choose to, but is it? Do people have a right to regularly eat like this and then expect treatment for their inevitable health problems? A can of worms, and perhaps more so in the UK where health care is largely free. Is this restaurant irresponsible in its ethos? (Click on the ‘Unhealthiest Restaurant’ link below the pic to watch the clip.)

10,000 calorie burger

Unhealthiest Restaurant