Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
The days of ordering a meat pie and a can of soft-drink for lunch from the school canteen are disappearing. At most schools today you’ll find sushi rolls, chicken wraps and celery sticks as part of the canteen menu. In fact many schools now pride themselves on being regarded as a ‘healthy school’.
This move towards healthier attitudes and behaviours when it comes to eating is part of a much larger campaign that recognises the link between nutrition and educational achievement. In other words, what children eat has an impact on how they learn.
Although messages about healthy eating are starting as early as preschool, a recent South Australian survey of 43,000 students found that 27 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys between Years 6-9 skipped breakfast most days. While the reasons for children skipping breakfast may vary, what is clear is the link between eating breakfast and student learning. A healthy breakfast helps children concentrate, increases alertness and can lead to improved achievement.
We know that a good breakfast counts, which is why some schools have introduced healthy breakfast programs and kitchen gardens to educate students on the broad benefits of eating well.
As greater numbers of young people are staying at school longer due to the demands on working parents, we need to think more broadly on how schools can provide for children, not just educationally, but also nutritionally. Perhaps introducing cafeterias in primary and secondary schools similar to those in European and North American schools is worth thinking about.
Subsidised meals would mean every student would get a nutritious breakfast and/or lunch along with healthy morning and afternoon snacks. The benefits of having cafeterias at schools open from early mornings would help to establish good eating habits for life, not to mention taking the burden from time-poor parents who have to prepare school lunch boxes five days a week.
We sometimes forget how valuable the work of schools is – not only feeding young minds but feeding young bodies as well.
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta