What do we know about food? As a nation, what is our food education? Only the other day I saw an illustration on LinkedIn with various tiers (like a cake!) and in each tier, rated from ‘God’ tier at the top to low tier at the bottom there were different types of food. Yorkshire pudding was in the God tier, naturally, but the holy grail and stalwart of the buffet table, the pork pie was in the low tier. I’d argue it should be in the God tier, certainly above toad in the hole and definitely above jellied eels. Someone save me.
But then a colleague of mine made an observation that I did not notice in the beginning. He said, “look how brown all our food is”. Now you may be thinking, ‘where are you going with this!?’ but stick with me.
That one comment got me thinking, that we don’t know much about food compared to our European counterparts. And whilst food education should start at home, it also plays a big part in our schools too. In recent years, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has lobbied the government into bringing in legislation which improves the diet of school children.
Early reports were positive, The Guardian reported in 2011 that school children who ate from Jamie’s menu were less likely to fall ill and be absent and were more likely to do better in tests.
However, by 2015, The Telegraph found that eating well in schools remained a luxury for the middle classes. Children from poorer backgrounds were not receiving the same nutritious meals. Jamie continues his campaign to halve childhood obesity by 2030.
However, I don’t want to go into the details of childhood obesity in this blog. Instead, I wanted to propose how our food education could be improved, so that our children twenty years from now have more colourful foods to place into the God tier.
One of the places where we could improve as a nation is school lunchtimes. Unlike our closest European neighbour, the French, our school lunchtimes last for less than an hour. According to a recent TES article on the subject, 82% of secondary schools have a lunch break of fewer than 55 minutes. Shockingly, 25% of them have lunch breaks lasting 35 minutes or less.
How does this affect children? I remember from school having only 50 minutes to queue up, choose an unhealthy lunch of sausages, chips and gravy with a potted yoghurt. I’d wolf it down within a matter of minutes so that I could leave the dining hall to fit in 15 minutes of social time in the playground.
For a younger me, and for many children, food is viewed as a task to be completed in order to do something more enjoyable. I believe with more time at lunch, our children’s food education could improve considerably.
In France, it’s a very different story. Pupils are entitled to 30 minutes each day to eat their lunch. That time doesn’t include waiting in line to receive food, but from the moment they sit down with their food. More often than not, lunchtimes in France can last two hours. This allows students to take the time to enjoy their lunch, experience a wide range of food on offer and talk across the dinner table with their friends.
A longer lunch allows students to spend more time making friends, exercising in the playground or engaging in extra-curricular activities. In many parts of Southern France, pupils will go home and meet their families for a long lunch around the dinner table.
By neglecting a longer lunch we may not be adequately preparing children for adult life. In business, many deals are done at lunch, around a table sharing food. Without time spent doing this in school, many children will not learn the prerequisites and faux pas associated with enjoying food in a social setting.
Alarmingly, there has been a reduction in breaktimes experienced by pupils aged 5-7 in England by 45 minutes since 1995 and 65 minutes for secondary school ages.
Should we be doing more to improve the quality of lunch breaks in our schools?