Education Campaigns Manager Kate Jones welcomes the new School Food Standards with their guidance to make school food more nutritious and appealing, but also for their recognition of the need for schools to choose more sustainable food.
My five-year-old collapses into a moaning mess when she’s hungry, incapable of listening or following a simple instruction. So I agree with Nick Clegg when he says, “if you want your child to do well at school, and particularly to concentrate well in the classroom in the afternoon, a healthy meal at lunchtime is vital.”
I’m also really excited that the new Standards ask schools to choose more sustainable food, recognising that school procurement has a crucial role in protecting farmers’ livelihoods and the environment – both in the UK and abroad – and that schools should use their “buying power to encourage suppliers to make their products … sustainable”.
When young people ask caterers to make sure their school food is sustainable, they’re learning really valuable lessons about the ethics and impact of food choice and about how to create change in their community. Pupils at Skelton School got lots of help with Fairtrade ingredients for their campaign for Fairtrade bananas, and told us “from originally thinking that 7-11 year olds were the least influential people in the UK, we now realise that we are in fact very influential. When we team up with the right people, we definitely have the power to change things that are unfair.”
The guidance specifically calls for schools to “buy Fairtrade products”. This government support is fantastic, and it’s thanks to the efforts of individuals like Miles Bremmer at the School Food Plan, and Henry Dimbleby of Leon Restaurants, that there’s an increased emphasis on sustainability in school food. But with popular Fairtrade products like chocolate and cereal bars allowed only ‘occasionally’ and for celebrations and fundraisers but no longer at daily tuck shops, schools often ask me how they can use Fairtrade products in school. There are so many other Fairtrade products schools can choose.
Fruit now needs at each occasion where food is offered during the day – Fairtrade bananas, tropical fruit and dried fruit are all widely available, and dried apricots and raisins can help children get enough iron in their diet, according to the new Standards. The government also asks schools to source local and seasonal products where possible; this paves the way for a wider variety of fruit and also hopefully means apples – which grow well in our climate – won’t be imported from thousands of miles away. Of course not all fruit is available locally, and here, introducing Fairtrade options like Ghanaian pineapples keeps sustainability at the heart of a school food policy where pupils investigate a range of ethics in food, from chemical use to sustainable pricing and carbon footprints.
Suppliers working with schools can use sustainable ingredients at lunchtime, like Fairtrade pasta, beans, couscous or quinoa. The caterers at Falinge Park High School in Rochdale, for instance, use Fairtrade rice. Fairtrade juice cartons, or flapjacks and cakes made with Fairtrade fruit and sugar are other ways schools introduce ethical options into school meals. And Fairtrade tea, coffee and hot chocolate are allowed and widely available too – although I can’t see that many schools will be introducing an espresso machine into year 4 classrooms anytime soon.
As for the Fairtrade chocolate question – I fully support schools making sure pupils enjoy healthy foods and snacks. Chocolate is a treat – being able to enjoy it at school parties, fêtes, cultural and religious celebrations, fundraising drives, as a reward, in food and cookery lessons and other special occasions will make it even more special and exciting for children of all ages. Of course they’ll want to know how it’s made and where it comes from, and teachers across the UK tell us that it’s a really valuable learning tool for investigating a range of ethics in food choice, using resources from sites like www.papapaa.org or www.fairtrade.org.uk/schools.
And when schools choose Fairtrade products, they can help children in poorer countries enjoy a healthy school meal too. Thanks to the Fairtrade Premium, sugar farmers in Belize bought cooking equipment so their local school can have “healthy food freshly prepared at the school [including] fresh fruits and vegetables which could be kept in the refrigerator” (i). In this respect, my five-year-old has something in common with the pupils at Chan Chen School – they all enjoy a healthy, freshly prepared school meal.