Top tips for Healthy Eating Week

We look at what schools can do, both in the dining hall and outside of it, to promote the themes of Healthy Eating Week.

Healthy Eating Week runs from Monday 10 June to Friday 14 June 2024. This year, the British Nutrition Foundation, the charity behind the event, is focussing on five important themes: Get at least 5-a-day, stay hydrated, move more, focus on fibre, and reduce food waste.

A balanced, nutritious diet is essential to children’s wellbeing and success both in school and at home. A healthy diet helps pupils to maintain steady energy levels throughout the school day and sustain focus, so they are ready to learn. Multiple studies have proven that good nutrition contributes to better behaviour and academic performance.

School food is often in the headlines, and not always for the right reasons. From complaints about the quality of school meals, to budget constraints pushing students towards unhealthy options, it’s easy to feel disheartened about the future of school food. However, amidst the many challenges and rising costs, schools, caterers and local authorities continue to prioritise pupils’ wellbeing, working to improve children’s nutrition, and increase the impact of Free School Meals and holiday food schemes.

With so much attention on school food and children’s health, we’re looking at what schools can do, both in the dining hall and outside of it, to promote the themes of Healthy Eating Week:

Get at least 5-a-day & focus on fibre

The 5-a-day guideline is based on World Health Organization guidance. Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals, and help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.  They’re also an excellent source of fibre, which, in turn, makes us feel fuller and aids digestion. A high-fibre diet also lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

Encourage students to eat more of these two important food groups by starting conversations in class about how good nutrition helps our bodies, and where our food comes from. Hands on activities like creating a kitchen garden in the school playground, practical cooking sessions or fruit and vegetable tastings will help to spark pupils’ interest.

Schools can also support children’s nutrition by working to increase the uptake of school dinners, and especially Free School Meals. Research has shown that less than a fifth of primary pupils’ packed lunches include any vegetables, and just 1.6 per meet the standards required of school dinners. Schools can help increase pupils’ enthusiasm about school lunches, to raise uptake, in a number of ways. Sharing attractive photos and descriptions of the meals on your menu, with easy online ordering encourages pupils and parents to make mindful choices together. Additionally, Tucasi’s Classroom Edition enables children to select their meals in class. This provides the opportunity to discuss healthy eating in the classroom and helps children to get excited about their lunch choice at the start of each day.

Of course, there is always room for improvement, and Healthy Eating Week is a great opportunity for school caterers and leaders to review the nutritional content of their school food. Here are some tips to help increase the fruit, vegetables and fibre in your meals:

  • Know what counts. Some starchy foods: potato, yam, plantain, and cassava, do not count towards your 5-a-day. However, pulses, sweet potato, parsnip and butternut squash do.
  • Fresh, frozen, canned and dried all count towards your 5-a-day. What constitutes a portion depends on the child’s size and age. One portion of fresh, frozen or canned fruit or veg is roughly the amount they could hold in their hand.
  • Keep it seasonal. Fresh, in-season produce is more likely to be locally grown, better value for money and tastier.
  • Create a rainbow on a plate. Eating fruits and vegetables across the colour spectrum helps to provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals. All these different elements are essential for health and wellbeing throughout the body.
  • Less meat, more plants. Make meals healthier by reducing meat portions and bulking out meals with extra vegetables and pulses. Not only is this more nutritional; it also adds flavour and texture, for more enjoyable meals.
  • Switch to whole grains. Wholegrain bread, pasta, bulgur wheat and brown rice contain more fibre than their more processed counterparts and are easy to switch into existing recipes.
  • Something sweet. Offer a variety of fresh, dried or canned fruit in natural juice for dessert, instead of other sweet treats, which are often high in sugar.

Reduce food waste

Statistics show that 96,000 tonnes of food waste is produced by primary and secondary schools in England each year. Opening a discussion about food waste with your pupils is a fantastic way to start cutting waste in your school. Conduct an audit to inform your staff and students about how much waste your school produces each week and identify any particular problem areas. Then, get the children to get involved in planning measures to reduce waste across the school, and to think about the food waste they personally generate.

Improving pupils’ experience in the dining room can also help to reduce food waste. Creating calmer school lunchtimes gives pupils more time and a better environment in which to relax and eat their meal. When children can focus on their food and take the time to enjoy it, they are likely to eat more, and leave less on their plates.

Improving efficiency in your school kitchen is one of the best ways to reduce food waste. A lot of waste arises from catering teams not knowing how much of each meal option are needed every day. Caterers have to estimate quantities, or even create an oversupply, to ensure all students are provided for.  Enabling parents to pre-order meals online ensures your kitchen knows exactly how much to prepare, and which option each pupil has. The comprehensive reporting functionality in Tucasi’s Dinner Money module also helps caterers monitor uptake and meal choices, to analyse what’s popular and refine their menus, further reducing waste.

Stay hydrated

We all know it’s important to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is essential for good cognitive function, digestion, heart health, sustaining energy levels, lubricating joints, body temperature regulation, and many other essential functions. But did you know young children have a higher proportion of body water than adults, and are less tolerant to heat, meaning they are more likely than adults to suffer from dehydration?

School days can be hectic, and teachers may be understandably reluctant to invite disruption into their classrooms by allowing pupils to leave their desks for a drink during lessons. However, it is essential students stay hydrated for their health, wellbeing and readiness to learn.

Here are some tips to help pupils stay hydrated in your school:

  • Use visual reminders. Visible prompts, such as classroom displays or posters around the school to keep hydration front-of-mind. You could even ask pupils to design their own posters, which will make them more invested in the message.
  • Embrace refillable bottles. Reusable bottles are less of a spill-risk than cups, and encouraging children to keep their bottles with them reduces disruption when they need a drink during lessons.
  • Check in before lessons start. Ask pupils to think about whether they are thirsty or need to fill their water bottle at the start of class. Addressing any needs before the lesson begins will ensure children can focus on learning, while staying hydrated.
  • Provide plenty of water at lunchtime. Make water and sugar-free squash readily available for children when they are eating – either on tables, or at accessible water stations around the dining room.

Move more

Increasing physical activity improves general fitness and can also reduce the risks of many medical conditions. For children especially, regular and varied exercise can also improve dexterity, co-ordination, strength and balance.

In addition to PE lessons, it’s highly recommended that schools to offer a range of extracurricular sports activities. Find out which activities interest your students to increase their engagement in school sports and create positive attitudes to exercise at an early age. You can help pupils to discover the joy of movement by trying alternative sports, such as boccia, handball and table cricket. We recently looked at other ways in which schools can build a culture of physical activity

Tracking extracurricular engagement and the popularity of different activities can help you to ensure your clubs are meeting the needs and interest of your pupils. Tucasi’s Trips and Events module helps club organisers track sign-ups, income and expenditure, pupil premium funding allocations, etc. Plus, online forms and bookings make it easy to start new clubs, anytime.

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