School Meals: The Changes Kids are Facing

With schools set to return at full capacity in September, the logistics of the school day, including school meals, are under review.

Onhealth’s resident dietitian Dawn Shotton believes the impact of Covid-19 related restrictions in social settings could have a detrimental impact on the healthy eating options of those children who rely on school meals.

Below, she discusses the challenges facing schools as they seek to deliver healthy food at lunchtimes:

“I have called a local council department to enquire about what provisions are likely to be in place in September for our children once they return to school under ‘new normal’ arrangements.

“Under ‘old normal’ circumstances most councils follow a set of ‘food rules’ or standards that help ensure our children receive a variety of nutritionally balanced, hot and cold meal choices each day.

“This provision sees that some of the most vulnerable children and families receive at least one nutritious meal, five times a week.

“But my conversation with the service lead was far from reassuring this time.

“School meal services are grappling with new Covid-19 restrictions that mean eating in dining rooms, from plates and with cutlery, through dining hatches and on tables and chairs in the numbers we were used to before coronavirus is posing some huge practical challenges.

“Unfortunately, the ‘new normal’ makes it near impossible to provide the same variety.

“Compromises to dining hall practices, the use of boxes and finger type foods, and a reduction in cooked food will reduce the social contact with children and between children.

“But it also means that providing choice and following nutritional standards is that much more difficult to achieve too.

“As the economic fall-out of Covid-19 continues to grow, it makes sense for more children and families to receive school meals, at least until things get a little easier.

“A flexible approach to the provision of meals outside of school might also be needed; school breakfast clubs and after school tea clubs play an important role in providing essential nutrition to those most in need and should not be forgotten as a possible way that authorities can support more families with nutritional needs during the school day.”