'Schools certainly have a duty to pay attention to what children eat as an integral part of looking after their health and physical development – it's every bit as important as their intellectual, academic and emotional growth. Nonetheless, I try to be cautious about matters of food. We try to inculcate proper and generous human and social values in them as they grow up, but we don’t tell children what they must believe. We should offer choices at school meals and encourage healthy eating: we should keep an eye on what children eat (particularly in the primary phase); we might even ban some items that are generally accepted as being very unhealthy; but even there we should tread very carefully, because it’s the mix and balance of food that is vital.
Children’s health is about more than what they eat (or don’t) for lunch. The boys and girls in my school are so very busy and active that they need that slug of carbs at lunchtime to get them through the afternoon. Because they get that, we don’t experience the oft-cited afternoon dip in attention and energy: in some ways, my only worry would be for those who don’t eat enough to keep themselves thriving during the long school day. Watchfulness; healthy, attractive choices; variety; balance; these are the ingredients we should put in place in our recipe for school food success. Acting as a kind of food police risks alienating children and families, and encouraging a “hidden curriculum” in children’s eating that could do real harm.'
Dr Bernard Trafford, Headmaster, Royal Grammar School, Newcastle
'As a school, we take healthy eating and nutrition seriously. Good diet enhances the power of concentration and performance, and helping our girls make healthier choices is an essential part of their education and wellbeing. This includes developing a responsible and positive attitude to the importance of food and nutrition. As part of the Girls’ Day School Trust, we have a formal food policy and consider school food as part of the educational offer to parents and girls.
All girls up to and including Year 11 are required to have a school lunch, so bringing in a packed lunch is not an option. This means the girls sit and chat at a table in a relaxed environment. We aim to provide a broad choice of food and ensure that it is presented in an appealing manner. We use professional caterers who specialise in catering for independent schools and all our menus are designed to be balanced nutritionally, and are also agreed with the girls through the school’s Food Forum.
We offer balanced and nutritious packed lunches to girls who are doing lunchtime clubs or going on excursions and who are therefore not able to sit and eat in the main dining hall. We regularly consider ways to improve the packed lunches and add variety, for example, providing the option to add fillings into their sandwiches from the salad bar, within the constraints that it needs to be able to be eaten picnic-style and without creating an undue amount of packaging.'
Hilary French, Headmistress, Newcastle High School for Girls
'Newcastle School for Boys’ approach to school lunches is healthy and all boys eat them – together. The food served and eaten at school is very important – our active and energetic boys need the right food intake to sustain them through busy days that often involve some form of strenuous sporting activity. This is very hard to achieve in packed lunch form. Our boys need the right nutritional balance to keep them healthy and to support their learning in school. There is a good choice of food that is well presented and tasty to make the boys want to eat it in the first place. The fact that all of our boys are happy to eat the lunches provided is testament that we get this right.
Lunchtimes also provide an important opportunity for boys and staff to come together during the school day. It is a time when boys interact across different year groups, sharing their news and views whilst developing important social and communication skills.
Our lunches are provided by our catering contractors – Sodexo – who understand very well our school ethos and how we like lunchtimes to run. In setting menus and service, they take the time to listen and respond to our boys’ views. They also understand and respond very well where boys have specific dietary needs. "Please, sir. Can I have some more?" is a frequent refrain at Newcastle School for Boys for all of the right reasons.'
David Tickner, Headmaster, Newcastle School for Boys