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Canteens are the biggest barrier to healthy eating for kids

The increase in number of children eating healthy at school will diminish without improvements to the school canteens. School Food Trust launches Canteen Rescue campaign to improve canteens across England

New research has shown for the first time that poor quality canteens are the biggest barrier to children’s uptake of school food.

The independent study, carried out on behalf of the School Food Trust, highlights several environmental factors that contribute to low school meal uptake, including cramped canteen layouts, poorly managed queuing systems, inefficient payment methods and high noise levels.

The School Food Trust is warning that the huge amount of time, effort and money that has gone into transforming school food over the last five years is in danger of being wasted unless schools ensure their canteens are fit for purpose.

The research forms part of the School Food Trust’s Canteen Rescue campaign which is launched today. The campaign’s aim is to encourage schools to implement simple measures that will drive take-up of school meals and, with it, the nutritional intake of pupils.

The small changes we made to the dining room made a huge difference to our pupils and turned lunch into a special occasion where the girls took the time to sit down and really appreciate their food. It has made it obvious to us that encouraging healthy eLangley Park Girls School

Judy Hargadon, Chief Executive at the School Food Trust, commented:

“It is clear that when children walk into a dining hall that is crowded, noisy and unattractive, they will vote with their feet – no matter what is on the menu.  The danger is that the huge efforts which have gone into improving the quality of school food will quite literally go in the bin unless schools tackle the environment in which it is served.  With such small steps making such a positive and significant effect on a child’s health, we want all schools to consider making these changes in their dining spaces. For the well-being of their pupils, we encourage them sign up to Canteen Rescue.”

Further experiments in canteens by the School Food Trust tracked the eating behaviours of children in primary and secondary schools and found that even small improvements to dining spaces can make young people eat more school food.

After making minor changes to the environment, such as staggering lunch queues to give children more time to eat, introducing tablecloths and replacing plastic plates, knives and forks with crockery and cutlery, the average child threw away 38% less food.

Jane Nicholls, Deputy Head Teacher of Langley Park Girls School where one of the experiments took place, said:

“The small changes we made to the dining room made a huge difference to our pupils and turned lunch into a special occasion where the girls took the time to sit down and really appreciate their food.  It has made it obvious to us that encouraging healthy eating is as much about providing an attractive environment as improving the food."

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