The Significance of More healthy Faculty Meals

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The Importance of Healthier School Meals

I remember sausage rolls, burgers and fries were the mainstay of the canteen offering at the all-girls high school I attended in the 80s. There was no salad bar, smoothie or vegetables in sight. However, we do know that healthier school meals can lead to higher grades, increased micronutrient consumption, better attendance, and lower obesity rates (see below).

There is no doubt that school lunches had a reputation for being unhealthy and unattractive to children and parents. Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama certainly helped bring this to our attention. Now many schools across Ireland have upgraded their canteen facilities. And while there is still a long way to go – with policies very different from school to school – there has definitely been an overall improvement.

What is being done

Some schools are very active in raising student awareness of the importance of healthy eating at home and at school. These schools often prohibit or discourage certain foods, e.g. B. those that are heavily processed or contain a lot of sugar (cakes, rolls, sweets or biscuits). And some even state in their policies that sweet foods should not be used as rewards or prizes in school competitions.

Promoting healthier / healthier school meals is now a central part of the Social, Personal and Health Education Program (SPHE) offered at school (although it is not always carried over to the actual canteen). However, there is no doubt that this will help spread good practice across the school community.

Government initiatives (such as the Department of Health's nutritional standards for school meals) and the efforts of some schools have tightened guidelines on school lunches, but parents still need to focus on what their teenagers eat in school.

The school lunch program

With a budget of almost € 50 million, this program benefits nearly 250,000 children across Ireland, with schools being given priority in the DEIS (which stands for 'Equal Opportunities in Schools'). The aim is to help children and young people who are threatened with educational disadvantages or who suffer from educational disadvantages.

The nutritional standards are based on the school feeding program. For breakfast clubs, school lunches and snacks, after-school clubs, and school lunches, only healthy foods that meet the standards are funded. Certain foods and beverages that are high in fat, salt and sugar are not funded.

The standards also emphasize that milk and water are the best drinks for children. Despite this great initiative, there is nothing stopping students from buying a sugary carbonated drink or other sugary food after school or during their lunch break. This is where the influence of the school ethic and parenting support is crucial (see below).

What are the 3 main benefits of having healthier school meals?

1. Better grades

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Health Economics clearly showed that a campaign for healthier school meals in the UK leads to improved educational outcomes. As the school feeding campaign shifted meals from inexpensive, processed foods to healthier options, grades improved significantly, particularly in science and English.

2.Improved nutrition (and health)

Eating a healthy school lunch increases a child's consumption of key vitamins and minerals. This emerges from a study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics in 2003. In fact, the researchers found that school eating increased students' absorption of certain nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B-12 and riboflavin, as well as fiber. It is crucial that these students also added less sugar. With a healthier lunch, it's no wonder the Journal of Health Economics study found that school absenteeism has decreased by about 14 percent. I think we can safely assume that this is due to the fact that the healthier food on offer improved the students' immune systems.

3. Obesity rates

Research shows that the school environment can either reduce or exacerbate the problem of obesity. According to a 2013 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, states in the US with more stringent dietary regulations had lower prevalence of obesity in children. Another study showed that children who attended schools with an unhealthy eating environment had more central body fat after two years than children who attended healthier schools.

Despite general improvements, it is clear that significant inequalities still persist between the school feeding environments available to children. The quality of the food offered and the school ethos of healthy eating seem to vary widely from school to school. We know, however, that the school nutritional environment is a particularly useful intervention target given that the vast majority of children spend so much time in school. So it seems that we are still missing out on a wonderful opportunity to raise and feed our teenagers.

Parents are still the key

The shift in recent years may not be as significant as it needs to be. For example, even schools with healthy eating guidelines still offer sausage rolls, fish and chips, chicken goujons and scones that disguise themselves as "healthy". It is clear that these foods are tempting to a hungry teenager. Therefore, work needs to be done at home to educate our children about better choices. Parents would be well advised to try to monitor what their son or daughter eats in school. The easiest way to do this is to talk to them about it and explain that if they make healthier choices, their energy, mood, and weight will benefit. If you enjoy the convenience of your child eating in school, go to school

And if you're not at all happy with what is on offer, just go back to basics and give them a lunch they bring (even better, let them cook it themselves the night before). Remember that a large part of the choices your teen makes will be due to peer culture. If your friends buy the sausage rolls, so will they, unless you offer a healthy alternative. Shop for the healthy ingredients (it's cheaper too) and encourage them to cook their own lunch. If you need an incentive, give them a few bucks each week to reward their healthy eating and they can save up for a new piece of clothing or new music.

Finally, I would like to present an interesting study of over 1,000 older school children in the US, the results of which were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology. The research found that those who brought their own lunch were healthier than those who ate school lunches. So it's worth thinking about. Some might say that the standards in the US might be lower than here. However, others argue (and I would rather agree) that, unfortunately, we have in some ways moved closer to the US model. You just have to look at the range of junk food in our gas stations to see this. Okay, schools have healthier options, but they still have very unhealthy, processed foods, and here is the problem.

So the research found that those who ate school lunches (instead of bringing their own);

– were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.2% versus 24.7%)

– You were more likely to eat two or more servings of fatty meats such as fried chicken or hot dogs per day (6.2% versus 1.6%).

– We were more likely to have two or more sugary drinks a day (19% versus 6.8%).

– They were less likely to eat at least two servings of fruit a day (32.6% versus 49.4%).

– They were less likely to eat at least two servings of vegetables a day (39.9% versus 50.3%).

– Had higher LDL levels for "bad" cholesterol

Further information

Click here to download the DOH Nutrition Standards document.

Click here to download our FREE collection of Healthy Back to School Recipes.

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