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Did you know as few as 1 in 4 children get just one hot meal a day? As child poverty rises, thousands of children still go to school hungry every day. This can affect every area of a child’s development – social, educational and personal.

The government have tried to tackle this inequality with the free school meals initiative. Introduced in September last year, it funds a free lunch for every child in reception, year 1 and year 2 state-funded infant schools. Never more has there been a better opportunity to educate children about food and help them fulfil their potential in the classroom at the same time.

Few would argue against the benefits that free school meals bring. Children get to eat hot, fresh, nutritious meals during the day whilst their parents save money by not having to provide packed lunches or ‘dinner money’. 

In this way, not only do children eat healthily during their formative years, they are also educated in the benefits of healthy eating which stand them in good stead as adults.  

Health experts and teachers alike agree that the policy will also lead to higher levels of concentration, good behaviour and performance amongst pupils.

Engaging children in healthy eating

Regardless of the benefits to educational attainment, it can still be difficult to engage children in selecting healthy choices.

A healthy breakfast is seen as one of the best starts to the day for children. With more kids now attending breakfast clubs, it can be a good opportunity to get children socialising at meal times and ensure they kick-start the day with sufficient fuel to learn. Providing options such as porridge, fruit, toast, cereals and bagels will ensure that children have the ability to select a healthier choice for themselves.

With the increase in free school meals, kitchens must be well-equipped to meet the challenging demands and standards expected. However, the funding provides the chance to create a colourful dining environment to appeal to youngsters along with space saving equipment to enhance their daily routines.

The subject of healthy eating doesn’t have to be constrained to meal times. Promote awareness in the classroom; engage pre-school and early years children with games and role play, and provide older children with practical knowledge and cooking skills.

Team all these elements together for a winning recipe that could influence children’s eating habits beyond their school years.

Looking for more heathy eating inspiration? Get involved and take on the challenges during BNF Healthy Eating Week.

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Lynda Overton

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YPO