Free School Meals – Parents’ Views

September 8, 2014 Published by

Back to school and it is all change: as of September 2014, all KS1 children start the new term with free school meals, so we have been talking to parents about their views on this government initiative.  We found that the reaction was somewhat mixed.  A small group of parents reported being pleased because they felt it took the pressure of them to cook a big, hot meal in the evenings.  Others felt concerned that their children wouldn’t eat the school meals and therefore would be hungry and unable to concentrate.  A substantial number of parents felt that the money could be better spent on other things.  Almost all the parents we talked to felt that increasing children’s understanding of food and nutrition, including getting children to help in the preparation of the food for their school lunches would be beneficial.

Whilst we applaud any effort to get children to eat a more balanced, nutritious diet and recognise the importance of this to a child’s ability to concentrate and learn, we believe that giving children free school meals is only a small part of the solution to improving the health and learning potential of our children.

We urge Nicky Morgan to require schools to teach children, from the start Children are never to young to learn about food preparationof school, about food preparation and nutrition.  Not only do most children enjoy cooking, it will help them engage with their food and increase the likelihood that they will try a wider range of tastes. Cooking is also a wonderful fun way to learn other subjects – literacy and numeracy, as well as transferable skills such as following instructions and teamwork.

Our Experts’ tips on promoting healthy attitudes to food that teachers and parents can try:

  1. Make it fun. Young children can enjoy washing potatoes in a bucket of water and splashing.  They can count the potatoes and older children can learn basic maths by working out how many potatoes each person can have, or how many pieces each potato needs to be cut into in order for everyone to have the same number of potato pieces. (Substitute any vegetable for potatoes in the above, but for young children, avoid ‘squishable’ vegetables and use harder root vegetables unless you want to make soup!
  2. Engage children in the planning, buying and preparing of food.  Older children can be given a budget and asked to plan the family’s meals for a week.  Then get them to help shop for it. Talk to them about own brand vs labelled goods and teach them about the traffic light codes on foods to easily help them recognise products that are high in fat, sugar or salt.
  3. Take young children to farms with farm shops and talk to them about where the food comes from.
  4. Play with pretend food – role playing cafes or having a teddy bears picnic are both fun ways to open up discussions about food and nutrition.
  5. Role model healthy eating.  Make sure your children see you refusing a sweet treat because you’ve just had one, or because it is nearly meal time.
  6. Being a little hungry occasionally isn’t going to do children any harm.  Avoid giving them snacks close to meal times.  Even if there’s an hour until the child’s meal and they say they are hungry, it is wise to just give them a drink of water and tell them to wait.  You’ll find mealtimes will be easier and children will eat a wider variety of foods if they are actually hungry for their meal.

Have you taken up the offer of free school meals?  What are your experiences so far of school dinners?

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This post was written by Fundamentally Children

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