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Bracing for the return to school

As schools across the UK re-open, parents, teachers, cooks and caterers face a whole new set of new challenges: everything from planning social distancing in a dining hall to managing an influx of pupils now eligible for free school meals. Amidst all the Covid rules and regulations, providing a nutritious lunchtime meal and continuing vital life education lessons such as cooking and healthy eating may feel like yet more challenges to add to the list.

Good food should be the easy choice for all

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in our food system and the latest figures paint a worrying picture: five million children in the UK are now living in households that are food insecure; over half of children who would have received free school meals are reportedly eating no vegetables; and it is well documented that there is a higher correlation of severe response to Covid-19 from those with dietary conditions such as obesity.

There have been some signs of promising response from Government: the U-turn on Free School Meal extension over the summer holidays and commitment to reinstating the School Fruit & Veg Scheme – both of which we were heavily involved in securing, the launch of the new Obesity Strategy, and the focus on tackling dietary health inequalities and further expansion of the Free School Meal scheme within the recommendations of the interim National Food Strategy.

However, there remain as many questions as answers, not least with the closure of Public Health England and its replacement with the new National Institute for Health Protection. The new institute’s focus has been clearly communicated as pandemic response and infectious disease capability: who will be responsible for tackling health inequalities and obesity? And where is the reassurance of funding for public health?

Surely, now is the time that Government should be focusing on the next generation’s future, and the intrinsic link between diet and health.

We are here to help

At Food for Life we continue to advocate for prevention rather than cure and our mission remains that good food should be easily available for everyone, everywhere and every day.

We know that children who eat well learn well*, and developing a healthy relationship with food during childhood sets up good eating habits for life. Thanks to the many Food for Life caterers, school cooks, teachers and Public Health commissioners, over 1 million children eat healthy and freshly-prepared meals in school every day: nutritious and tasty food that’s good for them and also good for the planet.

We know that changing how we eat reduces our impact on the world, makes our relationship with food more sustainable, and improves our physical and mental health.

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance on the environment in which we live, as many, including us, campaign for a green recovery. At Food for Life our programmes and policy work join the dots between people and health, our climate and nature.

From the ground up

For teachers, cooks and caterers, the return to school must feel fraught with new policies and procedures to follow. Rules and restrictions no doubt feel overwhelming and a far cry from the focus on giving children a good education that will have inspired many to enter the profession. In the midst of this web of protocols, we believe that Food for Life can help to bring a focus back to learning and to having some fun with children along the way. We’ve made changes to the way our criteria are assessed in light of the pandemic’s restrictions, and our cooking and growing resources and curriculum guides can be adapted to reflect social distancing measures, and we hope will bring some positive energy back into the school environment as well as continuing the all-important development of a healthy relationship with food.

We ask all in the Food for Life community to reach out to us. Over the last 20 years of Food for Life we have built up a large network of aligned groups and organisations, and our Policy team are an influential and respected expert voice, campaigning on many fronts to ensure that good food is a right, not a privilege. Keep talking to us so that we can better support you practically and better represent you at a national policy level by sharing your experiences and challenges.

Please - do get in touch and keep on with the fantastic work you are all doing!

*“Evidence points towards the [Food for Life programme’s] potential to contribute to… helping ‘CLOSE THE GAP’ for disadvantaged children in terms of their health and academic attainment.” 

Read the report here.


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