Food has been a big focus for campaigners, educators and government alike of late, aiming to improve children’s awareness of healthy eating. Health and wellbeing, for example, are a big part of Curriculum for Excellence, with food education a key element of improving our young people’s long-term relationship with food.
This connection between food and education is an obvious one. We have a captive audience in our children and young people in our schools and, equally, we have a market there which can tell us first-hand what is working, and what is not.
Our recent consultation with children and young people on their school food experiences revealed some very interesting results. The pupils had some clear ideas about what they would like to see improved with their school food experiences, with suggestions mainly centred around insufficient or unappealing food choices, as well as issues around the time spent in queues and the detrimental effect on play and social time. Discussing where school meals could be improved, pupils across all age groups spoke of their desire to see more choice generally as well as local and seasonal produce used in school menus.
So, realistically, how do we make this happen?
The pupils had some very clear ideas from suggesting that children are offered a list of possible menus to which they then vote (with majority rules), to enthusiasm for more work in schools to grow and cultivate food. To deal with complaints about the time spent waiting in queues, there was the suggestion that food could be ordered during break time and then made available for collection when the lunch bell rang.
Further suggestions were made on how school meals were decided with enthusiasm for new Canteen Awards and also groups of children who are consulted during the decision-making process.
It is important to note that children and young people were not requesting outlandish change. They were aware of the restrictions on local authorities and schools but, overwhelmingly, the biggest messages was that they had an opinion and they just wanted to be listened to.
Getting this right will be increasingly important as we hope the uptake of school meals to be improved in coming years, particularly with the extension of free school meals announced recently by Scotland’s First Minister.
In addition, if we are trying to cultivate a nation of young people who are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens, we would be doing them a huge disservice if we do not, at the very least, listen to what they have to say.
Jackie Brock is chief executive of Children In Scotland