School meals; why they matter

School meals; why they matter

Whether you had school meals or took in a packed lunch, we’re pretty sure that you will have an opinion on school dinners – they’re a bit Marmite, you either loved them or hated them. And now as a teacher or parent perhaps, you may hold similar views. But we’d like to take some time to pay homage to the school meal and track its history in the UK and abroad.

Spotted Dick Pudding

Nation’s favourite – Spotted Dick with custard

Before the end of the Second World war in 1944, the government made it compulsory for schools to provide a nutritional school dinner. School meals were free for children from low-income families. Traditional school dinner foods such as treacle pudding and spotted dick became favourites of the Nation.

In the 1980’s whilst Thatcher was in power the Conservatives obliged local authorities to privatise provision of school meals also stopping free school dinners for low-income families. Though intended to reduce costs overall for local authorities instead the reduction was in food quality. A Medical Research Council survey in 1999 uncovered damning findings. Despite rationing in 1950 school dinners in the late 1990’s were less nutritious and contained more fats and sugars.

Jamie Oliver and Channel 4 joined forces to highlight the poor standard of school meals often in state schools meals were cooked by outside caterers. Chips, pizza, fried turkey nuggets and pies were regular items on the menu. Spearheading a campaign to improve the quality of nutrition in school meals Jamie became a figurehead for child nutrition in the UK and abroad. He gained support from the general public and the pressure was on to provide more funding for school meals. In response the government created the School Food Trust, and school dinner nutrition became a subject of the 2005 UK General Election.

From September 2014 all infant children are entitled to a free hot school dinner. This initiative was launched by Nick Clegg following the Liberal Party Conference in 2013. The government is paying £2.30 per newly eligible child to local authorities.

Personal views aside school dinners continue to act as a magnet to the classroom and education itself. With well over half a million children in the UK living in homes where their families cannot afford to provide them with an adequate diet; free school meals continue to help children towards a better education.

Globally, according to sports science and nutrition expert Ben Hanton, “Approximately half of all deaths in infants aged up to five years’ old are attributed to malnutrition.”  ITV’s recent collaboration with the World Food Programme and the Rugby World Cup: Tackle Hunger Together is specifically aimed at funding school meals, here in the UK and abroad. The Tesco child nutrition education campaign Farm to Fork provides a practical learning environment for children extending invites to visit the In Store bakery, go on trails with local farmers and suppliers, or take part in food production. It’s good to see that school dinners have an important place in UK and global education with or without sticky toffee pudding for afters.

Over to you.


Ben Hanton is the Founder of Elitas strength and conditioning gym and a frequent contributor to Huff Post.

School meals, Teaching

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