Today, (Wednesday 16 January, 2019) the Food Foundation published 'The Children's Future Food Inquiry' report.
As part of the consultation process, the Fixers charity spoke directly with 300 children aged between 11 and 16 to understand how food insecurity affects them and what changes they believe need to be made. The report highlighted the importance of good school food, with some children expressing their concern that the food in their school wasn’t good enough. Areas of concern include:
- Some children said that their school food was unhealthy and poor quality. They said they understood the importance to their long-term health of eating a healthy, balanced diet, and the long-term health implications of eating foods high in fats and salt. Yet often these unhealthy foods were offered to them at school.
- “At school, it is generally a case of ‘you get what you’re given.” The young people featured in the report raised frustrations about not being consulted on the menu or price of food, and felt schools did not hold anyone responsible for issues relating to food. This was something they desperately wanted to change, highlighting the importance of pupil voice and leadership with respect to school lunches.
- Exacerbating the issue were the unpredictable changes in meal prices at some schools. Children said there was no security in the price of meals, and that schools sometimes changed the cost of meals without any warning. They said they had no say in these decisions, and that it was hard to budget for food when the prices were subject to change. One child said “The prices go up year on year.”
Free school meals insufficient
- Some children said that the allocation for free school meals was insufficient. “The financial limit placed on students receiving free school meals do not allow you to get a full meal; often students say they could buy hot food, but could not afford a drink with it or a snack at break time.” In some cases, the £2.30 allocation was insufficient to afford a hot school meal.
Food for Life (FFL) has always advocated a ‘whole school approach’, where food is not an ‘add on’ but an intrinsic part of the school day. Pupils from FFL schools have a direct input into the menu and lunch service through involvement of the school council and School Nutrition Action Group (SNAG), and parents, teachers and community groups participate in the school’s cooking and growing activities.
What makes the FFL schools programme so successful is the knowledge taught in the classroom is transferred into the dining room. School cooks and midday supervisors are valued members of the school community. This approach means that the school dining area and service creates a healthy environment, and school children are better equipped with the skills needed to cook and grow their own food, which has been demonstrated to increase their fruit and veg consumption and can support resilience in the face of poverty.
Rob Percival, Head of Policy at the Soil Association commented:
“The Children’s Future Food Inquiry provides a sobering and challenging insight into the issue of poverty and hunger in schools.
For many children their main meal of the day is eaten at school – it’s deeply concerning that some children are struggling to afford a hot, healthy and filling meal with the money allocated to them for free school meals.
Children have said that they feel there is no one responsible for issues relating to food in schools, and that they would like to have more direct input into the menu and lunch service.
Children have also said that it’s clear that food and nutrition aren’t a priority to the teachers and leaders in their schools. This highlight the urgent need for the Government to stop procrastinating and launch an ambitious Healthy Rating Scheme, as promised in 2016.
All schools should be encouraged through the Healthy Rating Scheme to adopt a ‘whole school approach’ that puts good food at the heart of the school day, engaging pupils and the whole school community in a joined-up approach. Good food and adequate nutrition must be available to those that need it most – the voices in this report cannot be ignored.”
Find out more about the Food for Life Schools programme and how your school can get involved.