Efforts to improve the quality of school meals could all be in vain if canteens aren't made fit for purpose, according to new research.
An independent study, carried out on behalf of the School Food Trust (SFT) as part of its Canteen Rescue campaign launched today, found that poor quality canteens are the biggest barrier to children's uptake of school food.
The report highlights cramped canteen layouts, poorly-managed queuing systems, inefficient payment methods and high noise levels among several environmental factors that contribute to low school meal uptake.
"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."
The Canteen Rescue campaign aims to encourage schools to implement simple measures that will drive take-up of school meals and, with it, the nutritional intake of pupils.
In a bid to track the eating behaviours of children in primary and secondary schools, the SFT conducted further experiments and found that even small improvements to dining spaces can make young people eat more school food.
As a result of minor changes to the canteen 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 SFT found that 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 that the small changes made to the dining room made a huge difference to the pupils. "It 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".
Hargadon added: "With such small steps having 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."
The campaign incorporates a competition that offers five schools the chance to win a professional makeover for their canteen. Parents, teachers and pupils in primary and secondary schools can nominate their school canteen for a makeover by visiting the competition website at http://www.getreal.uk.com/canteenrescue
Nominations will be judged by a panel of celebrities including children's TV stars Dick and Dom, Radio 1 presenter Scott Mills, Big Brother winner Craig Phillips, TV chef Brian Turner and designer Jackie Llewelyn-Bowen. Shortlisted entries will feature in a series of TV programmes to be broadcast on the Community Channel at the end of the year. The deadline for submissions is 10 April 2010.
LACA - why we need to safeguard the school meals service >> By Janie Stamford
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