Thursday, March 03, 2005

School Dinners

Last week Simon had seen Jamie's School Dinners, a programme featuring Jamie Oliver and his campaign to improve the food this country gives to children in schools. I managed to catch an episode tonight.

Unsurprsingly to those of us who work regularly ith young people, most of the food young people want toeat is processed, full of sugar and preservatives, high in salt, high in saturated fat and more importantly lacking in nutrients. I'm not saying that all young people eat rubbish food but I know that there are plenty who do.

For me the shocking session was Jamie holding up raw fruit and vegetables (some common like leeks and rhubarb and others more "exotic" like asparagus) in each case fewer than half the class and sometimes only one or NONE of the children knew what they were. In contrast when he held up the logos of some fast food joints all the class knew all of them.

It was distressing to see Jamie's despondency in the face of so much difficulty in educating the children in good food as basic as roast chicken instead of the highly dubious turkey twizzlers.

Having persuaded one family to try a week without preservatives, prepackaged food and sweets, Jamie listened as the mother and father recounted the resulting chaos not when the processed food was removed (though there were tantrums aplenty in the supermarket!) but when they "gave them a treat". Within thirty minutes the children were argumentative and stroppy. The shock on the parents' faces spoke volumes.

As Simon and the resulting discussion said last week, this really is a challenge to those of us who work with young people and provide food and drinks for them. It is the eternal trouble - do we give them "what they want" or only offer healthy food.

Well for one, we have our cocktail bar at or youth club next week and I'm going to try to make the drinks slightly less sugar filled! The tuck shop element is more difficult though. We've introduced fruit but should we really withdraw the chocolate? At my Sunday morning group we have biscuits... should we stop that? We serve fizzy drinks which I ocasionally replace with fruit juice but this makes quite a dent in the budget... Is this worth the cost? We've bought a popcorn machine so that the popcorn we serve at film nights is lower in sugar but we also have pizza... what would we have instead?

Well something we could all try is having a look at the packs for schools and parents.


Barrie said...

I share your dilema here Sarah.
We have been having a big debate over whether we should only stock fair trade chocolate or have the choice of Cadburys too in our "Cafe" for a number of weeks. Suddenly last week the word "obesity" just fell out of my mouth - we do nothing to promote our YPs eating fresh fruit and veg as an alternative.
The Cafe runs from 7-9pm which for many means they are missing their evening meal to be there - we do offer hot food but it tends to be Pizza, Pancakes, Toasties etc. all full of processed food.
I personally have had major battles with food over the years - mainly to do with the amount I eat as opposed to what, but I suddenly realised that we are missing out our responsibilities to the young people we work with.

Pete Lev said...

Good stuff! But the other side of the coin is to make food an "issue" - with guilt and all that goes with. Obesity and unhealthy eating is a problem for young people, but so are eating disorders. My question is how do we get a balance?