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Children in school uniforms having lunch.

Engagement, enjoyment and education: lessons learnt from the Gothenburg school meal programme

7 Feb 2013 | Joe Crossland

If we want our children to grow up and lead healthy lives, cook healthy food and know where their food comes from and why this is important, where better to start than at school? The school meal programme highlighted in Going to Gothenburg is embedded into the school curriculum and shows an understanding of the importance of starting early to engage children’s interest in food.

By involving the children in preparing and serving school meals, the schools highlighted in the report have also engendered a sense of ownership and pride. And in seating pupils and teachers together for the duration of the meal – and for tidying up afterwards – fostered a culture around food which is based on fun, collaboration and community.

We, in the UK, are used to seeing sensationalist newspaper headlines such as ‘City kids think cows lay eggs’, which popularise the idea that children (and the general populace) have little idea of the origin of the food on their plates. In fact, it’s not as bad as all that – look a little closer at the stats in this particular story, and you will see that only 2% of city children in 2007 thought that eggs came from cows, but don’t let the truth get in the way of a good headline!

By involving children in the preparation of meals, working with ingredients and witnessing the magic process whereby simple raw ingredients are transformed, or experiencing the taste of truly fresh produce, the inquisitive nature of children will naturally lead them to ask these types of question themselves.

The Gothenburg project also has an emphasis on locally sourced, organic and seasonal produce. The environmental arguments for local food are important to get across to children, but the benefits of eating locally grown fruit and veg are not just about food miles; eat a fresh strawberry, raspberry or even a carrot and the taste hits you in a way that unripe produce harvested and transported across the world does not.

Finally, I love the fact that the Gothenburg project celebrates the enjoyment of food, in all its aspects – preparation, sitting down together and eating a good meal. This changes the emphasis on school lunchtimes from a simple re-fuelling exercise, to opportunities to relax and interact and create – in a very common sense approach – a sense of community which the children value and can easily replicate as they grow up and forge their way in the world.

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