In the UK for years school dinners have been subject to mockery, campaigns to create a healthier culture and many a playground school rhyme. Our team decided to investigate how we shape up against the rest of the world. We were, at times shocked with what we discovered.
In an attempt to make ourselves feel better we headed across the pond to America – they were sure to have school dinners that would outdo our own turkey twizzling offer of the mid-nineties.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one third of children in America are obese. With a reported typical lunch of fried ‘popcorn’ chicken, mash potatoes, peas, fruit cup and a chocolate chip cookie, it’s hardly surprising.
Our Mediterranean neighbours combine fish, fresh vegetables and fruit for their pupils. We wonder what British school children would make of such an offering.
We decided to ask our colleagues across our teams about their memories of school dinners…
Dan from our Cardiff Secondary team talks with fond recollection of turkey twizzlers and smiley faces, but recoils at the memory of the ‘custard slice’.
Custard seems to be an ever-lasting staple in school dinners across the UK since time began.
Owen from our Swansea team describes some very ‘ropey’ burgers covered in ketchup as his favourite discovery at the school dinner counter. It was always a disappointment for Owen to arrive to the sight of spam and chips and rice pudding.
Nutritional therapist Lorna Driver-Davies, a nutritional therapist comments ‘Looking at the lunches from across the world, it seems mixed in terms of how balanced the diets are. However, looks can be deceiving, while the Finnish lunch looks very healthy – the focus is on starchy carbohydrates, starchy vegetables and fruit. So, for me it’s lacking in adequate protein or green leafy vegetables.
Ms Driver-Davis thinks the schoolchildren in France, Korea and Brazil have the best lunches.
‘My favourite is the Korean meal since fermented foods are great for gut health and the children are given a starchy carbohydrate such as rice, but also green and colourful vegetables and fish – boosting protein levels,’ she said.
‘The French meal was also very good since they are leaning towards giving vegetables and meat rather than too much bread or pasta and the French cheese will give some protein, fat soluble nutrients and calcium.
‘The Brazilian meal was as good as the Korean, since there is an emphasis on meat and plant proteins and vegetables. We still focus on starchy carbohydrates to fill us up but children cannot
have a nutritionally balanced diet without adequate good fats, proteins and a wide and large variety of vegetables’*
So what is the future for school dinners in the UK?
There’s much debate about who will and will not qualify for school dinners in the future. Politics aside, schools seem to be stepping up.
From vegetable frittata to carrot and pineapple muffins and mixed bean and aubergine tagine with cous cous to seasonal vegetable crudités as one school in Cambridgeshire is offering their pupils, it’s a far cry from deep fried meats of questionable origin.
We think this is a step in the right direction…