We are at risk of having a generation of people in our society who do not know how to cook. They have never been taught about nutrition, and many of them struggle to eat a balanced diet. Unless action is taken, this cycle will not be broken; more children will struggle to maintain a healthy diet, obesity will rise and our country will struggle in the face of a looming health crisis. We need to promote a culture of healthy eating in our schools and instil a love of cooking in our children. This is where the School Food Plan can help.
The School Food Plan is a set of 17 agreed actions, published in July 2013 by the Department for Education. It was written by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, owners of the LEON restaurant chain, and contained actions for government departments, Ofsted, and school food organisations. The Plan brought these people together in classrooms, in a bid to tackle England’s unhealthy relationship with food. By working together as a whole sector, using the principles of positivity and consensus, the Plan has been able to make amazing progress.
Many of the School Food Plan’s actions will be quite familiar to you; offering free school meals to all infant schoolchildren across England, ensuring that compulsory cooking was back on the curriculum, and developing food-based standards for school meals and food across the day. Alongside these policy changes, there has been a focus on taking a whole school approach and embedding a great school food culture across the day. And there are many stories and case studies of schools successfully doing just that, connected together by the School Food Plan.
Excellence, as many of us will know, does not come simply through Government decree. It is the will and skill of those involved in implementing the School Food Plan that has made it the success it is today. By working with schools, head teachers, local authorities, caterers, governments, parents and pupils, to name just a few, the people at the School Food Plan have created a bank of resources that can support schools on their journeys, all freely available for present and future use on the website.
Ultimately, the Plan recognises that bringing schools and local councils together to work harmoniously is vital in achieving the vision and actions in the Plan. There is a virtuous circle that benefits from this close working relationship; namely, if you invest and improve the quality of food and the dining experience for children, take-up will increase, and then the price of the meals can decrease. Which, of course, allows more students to take advantage of healthy, tasty school meals. As such, local councils play a huge role in ensuring that the School Food Plan is implemented to create a good quality service in all schools across their area.
Perhaps most importantly, the School Food Plan shows how investing in school meals is a preventative measure; it enhances children’s health and wellbeing, encourages healthy growth, and reduces hospital admissions for obesity-related health issues or, on the other end of the scale, admissions for malnutrition. To give in to the false economy of reducing the money going to school meals, you are doing your schools and their students a huge disservice; with rising childhood obesity levels and food poverty, school meals are more important than ever in our society.