Recipe for Healthy Schools

Immediate action is needed to improve children’s food and address the interlinked issues of climate, health and sustainability – this was the key message from the Soil Association’s 2020 Food for Life National Conference.

Leaders from across the food and health sectors recently came together to discuss priorities for the future of children’s food. Henry Dimbleby MBE, independent lead for the National Food Strategy, took the lead encouraging everyone at the event to participate in the National Food Strategy, which will be the first independent review of England’s entire food system for 75 years.

Guest speaker Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall also shared his thoughts and led a panel discussion on the challenges, successes and visions for food education and the changing culture around school meals.

James Cashmore, deputy CEO of the Soil Association, summarised by stressing the speed with which we need to act saying: “This is the year of climate, nature and health, and of joining the dots between these inter-connected crises that have food sitting at their very heart.”

But why the urgency? Well, according to the National Childhood Measurement Programme, one in three children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, and the risk is doubled for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Meanwhile in terms of sustainability, the food and drink industry’s environmental impact accounts for 20-30% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, say School Food Matters, who believe schools have a key role to play in reducing this impact.

To ensure school meals are consistently better for health and sustainability, attendees at the Food for Life conference voted Ofsted regulation and inspection of school meals as the most important measure. The Department for Education and Ofsted have so far resisted calls for formal monitoring.
However, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, food served can impact on a school’s Ofsted rating. Elizabeth Whetham, headteacher of Holy Trinity Primary School in Halifax commented: “It shouldn’t be down to a headteacher’s personal passion, schools should be held to account on good food in the same way we are for health and safety.”

And finally … the myth that sustainable food and government spending on food in schools are incompatible due to cost, is being proved untrue in many cases. Organisations are writing sustainability requirements into tenders for food supply, resulting in better food at affordable prices. According to School Food Matters, the school meal price in Richmond dropped significantly when changes were put into place to move from a frozen ‘ready-meal’ to freshly cooked sustainable food meeting the Food for Life Silver Catering Mark standard.

So healthy, climate-friendly food has financial benefits too. Join the dots to create a truly balanced food offering.

• Get kids growing their own food
• Buy local and seasonal
• Source sustainable fish
• Visit a farm to show children where food comes from
• Adopt a water-only drinks policy
• Ensure pupils have a healthy breakfast
• Help kids to learn how to cook
• Aim to be waste-free
• Make lunchtimes an important and enjoyable part of the day
• Involve parents and (of course) the children
• Host School Farmers Markets in the school hall
• Make sure fundraisers and sporting events reinforce health eating messages
• Establish a Healthy School Food policy covering the whole school day
• Sign up for the Food for Life schools programme (