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Healthy eating – The difficult task of teaching students about good nutrition

Photo of students queuing at a school cafeteria

Paul Buckland reflects on the task of getting students to eat more healthily – and how in the wrong hands, nutrition can become ammunition…

Paul Buckland
by Paul Buckland
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I’ve always had a keen interest in maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, with good nutrition at the heart of it. I’ll admit, I’ve not always managed to put theory into practice, but I’m still an enthusiastic trier.

That said, being married to a Food and Nutrition teacher (not, it should be noted, a food tech or, God forbid, cookery teacher) means I’m ‘fortunate’ enough to be regularly reminded of what I should and shouldn’t be consuming.

That hasn’t always been easy, particularly during stressful times at school – but after coming to terms with my fundamentally flawed nature, I’m at least allowed one bacon sandwich a week. Processed foods remain otherwise forbidden.

(That said, I did once have an unspoken agreement with the catering manager at my last school that my Friday bacon sarnie before the staff briefing was strictly between us. Sorry, Carol…)

A perverse decision

With the my students’ best interests always in mind, I’ve consistently supported the promotion of healthy eating and lifestyles in every school I’ve worked at. Then, as now, I’ve fully observed the principle that what we put into our bodies impacts upon how well we work, in every sense.

My colleagues and I engaged with different government programmes to try and acquire the status of a ‘Healthy School’, in whichever format was being recognised took at the time – be it the National Healthy Schools Standard; the Healthy Schools Rating Scheme; the Food in Schools Policy or simply the Eat Well Guide.

I expect I’m therefore not alone in feeling that the government’s decision to delay, and then subsequently review its Obesity Strategy – in an apparent attempt to limit the impact of the cost of living crisis – is a retrograde step. It seems like a perverse decision to me; one that’s likely to cost the country millions in future health costs, and sow health issues amongst children that will be with us for generations to come.

Leaving ‘BOGOF’ deals for sugary drinks and snacks in place and allowing the promotion of such foods to continue will only serve to undermine efforts aimed at improving children’s wellbeing, but we continue to do our best in the face of absurdity.

Getting the message

One incident during my final term at my last school reassured me, in a roundabout kind of way, that I was leaving the place at an encouraging point in its ‘healthy eating’ journey towards improvement.

After a fairly uneventful bus duty, I made my way towards the food and nutrition classroom to see the head of department, as I had some news for her. I found her restoring order to a roomful of Y8s following a practical activity.

“Good afternoon, Linda. How were the quiches?”

“If I never see another quiche again, it’ll be too soon. What can I do for you?”

“I’ve come to congratulate you on the success of your push with the Eat Well Guide and the promotion of Healthy Eating.”

“That’s great to hear, but it’s a whole school initiative – I hope.”

I made a mental note to think things through before speaking next time.

“Of course, but I do credit you with this particular success.”

Linda raised her eyebrows.

“We had an issue with two Y8 students at lunchtime today,” I continued.

Her brow furrowed.

“I had a call from reception to say that a member of the public wished to complain about a couple of our students throwing food over the wall at passing cars.”

“I’m not sure I see the connection.”

I explained that with the help of our lunchtime supervisors and the photo-file, the culprits had been identified and reprimanded. The head of year, who had meted out appropriate punishments, had been to see me and explained the details.

I concluded by saying, “It seems they were throwing some items from their lunchboxes. Slices of kiwi fruit and blueberries, mainly.” I paused to let the words sink in. “So… the Eat Well message is certainly getting across…”

“I see,” said Linda. “ I guess the next step is to get them actually eating it.”

I nodded. Small steps, I agreed, but progress all the same…

Paul Buckland is a recently retired secondary headteacher; for more information, click here

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