Educational Catering's Failure to Cater for Health Education
Nutrition and Health; Vol 2, April 1983
Alan F. Harrison
Head of Faculty of Community Studies
Canterbury College of Technology,
The interest within this study of the school meal is based upon the wide acceptance of the value of its contribution to the nutritional progress of this country in the last few decades and the probably disputable assertion that such a contribution has come to an end with the advent of ‘fast’ and ‘junk’ foods, the indiscriminate consumer and the diminishing motivation of local education authorities to provide a meal within certain nutritional and cost parameters.
The main statement of the analysis is that Educational Catering has missed a valuable opportunity to play a significant part in improving the health of the school pupil by providing the appropriate food. Almost equal in importance as a statement is that Educational Catering must become fully involved in the school education programme. Lost opportunities are of less importance for the future than determining ways in which the school meals staff can be integrated into the team of people in the school interested in improving the dietary choices of its pupils and,, as a consequence, improving their health.
Educational Catering has missed a valuable opportunity to play a significant part in improving the health of the school pupil by providing appropriate food. Education Catering must become fully involved in the school food education programme. We require to devise ways in which the school meals staff can be integrated into the team of people in the school interested in improving the dietary choice of its pupils and, as a consequence, improving their health.
Before and after lunch time, the class may address itself to the ideals of diet and the correct choice of food but in the lunchtime school meal, the pupils are confronted with ‘…chips and sausage rolls, chips and hamburgers, chips and anything, plus backed beans, tinned spaghetti, crisps,, sweet biscuits, jelly, instant whip and orange and lemon squash’.
It can be argued that those in educational catering are merely responding to demand.
Some schools arrange classes in nutrition, menu planning and cookery where a wide variety of cookery techniques are taught. However the same school does not see that the meal which it offers at lunchtime contradicts what is taught. If the school meal is based upon fried foods in order to satisfy pupil demand, the satisfaction of this demand may be undermining the health of the next generation. The provision of food of this kind may become the thing to do when, as parents, schoolchildren having become adult; they have to decide what food to provide for their own children.
The objectives in food education which are set forth in the classroom stand in start contrast to what is provided by the school meal and by the tuck-shop. In both cases that which the school provides must appear to the pupils to be legitimate.
Two opportunities to improve the diets of pupil are commonly missed. The first is to make available to scholars food which is wholesome, the second is to integrate the school meal into the food education programme. It is not enough for those in the kitchen to be given menus to work to; this does not go far enough. If the school meal is to be integrated into the food education programme then those in charge must be part of the team which draws up and implements the programme. This has been perceived by the Department of Education and Science but has not been put into effect.
‘We welcome the moves that are being made to bring the school catering service into closer working relationship with home economics departments in schools. We commended curricular links of this nature as promising ways of creating an awareness of healthy eating habits as an enjoyable and satisfying aspect of the art of living.’ DES (2) 1975 p.9
The former Schools Council provided a Health Education Project 13-18 (SCHEP) 1981 which recommended that the school should form from teachers a Health Education Team. Such a group capable of dealing with Food Education should comprise:
A senior Home Economics teacher
A senior offer in Education Catering
The senior school meals supervisor
A representative of the Physical Education staff
Other interested in the topic (from science staff)
Representative from the General Education Department
Representative from the PTA
Educational Catering is prevented from becoming involved in the food education programme within a school by:
(a) Historical considerations – it is not usual for them to be involved
(b) Organisational considerations – there is no formal mechanism within the school for such a tie- up
(c) Professional considerations – teachers are a set of professionals and may not realise that Educational Catering personnel (at senior level) are also professionals
(d) Cultural considerations – teachers and those in Educational Catering do not mix socially
We should accept that in any essentially social situation there are perceived superiorities and inferiorities. They prevail even in the Educational Catering situation. Wright, 1 describes a possible hierarchy whereby school meal cooks are views by school meal organisers with ‘drawing-room condescension’. As it involves people in Education Catering taking part in the food education programme, Wright’s main point is that the school meals organisers ‘are themselves looked down upon by home economics teachers’. Only a small number of teachers are prepared to be involved in projects involving school meals. ‘The rest consider catering beneath their interest’.
There is scope for every home economics teacher to view afresh her relationships with the school meals service. ‘There are challenging opportunities for measures combining learning activities and good provision… which can be instruments in the development of good eating habits – not only during school years but for a lifetime’. The’ challenging opportunities’ could be identified by the home economics teacher on her own or by a select group of teacher. Far better, however, would be to treat the organiser as a professional and identify the opportunities on a collaborative basis.
It is appropriate to seek the cooperation of those involved in devising and preparing the school meal. ‘The school lunch should provide an enjoyable meal and also a laboratory where all pupils learn the practical facts about food and nutrition.’ Whilst this is an appropriate objective it is not fulfilled in the modern British school. The meals may be ‘enjoyable’ in the sense that they pander to the liking for chips and sweet foods. In no sense, however, do the pupils, at lunchtime, enter a situation where they learn the practical facts about food and nutrition.
Those at the counter are at present in a no-man’s land between the home economists who are endeavouring to teach, amongst other things, wise food choice on the part of the pupils and the school meal organisers who hope to provide meals based on sound nutritional principles. They realise that unless the popular items are provided there will be no demand.
 Wright, H. (1981). Swallow it Whole, The New Statesman’s Guide to the Food Industry, p.12
 Department of Education and Science (1975). Nutrition in Schools. A Report of the working party on nutritional aspects of school meals.
 Schools Council Health Education Council (1981). Coordinators Guide: Health Education 13 -18
 Collins, S. C. (1980). Schools Catering: the place for change, Post grad. Me. J., 56, 610-612
 Turner, C. E. (1952). School Health and Health Education, Harry Kimpton