Leader comment: School dinners should reinforce good habits

Offering healthier options to children in the school canteen should be a central part of their education. Picture: Robert Perry

Offering healthier options to children in the school canteen should be a central part of their education. Picture: Robert Perry

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As we try to tackle an obesity crisis, our dietary habits have never been under as much scrutiny as they are today. A lack of exercise is one contributory factor to becoming overweight, but it is what we put into our bodies which has the greatest effect on our shape and health.

We should all be aware of the dangers of eating the wrong types of food, and make sensible choices based on that knowledge. If only it was so simple.

Today, we reveal that many schoolchildren across Scotland are consuming more than the government recommended intake of fat, salt and sugar in a single serving of a school meal. And at all of the local authorities which provided full details of the nutritional values of their school meals, the recommended daily limits were exceeded in one or more courses.

What children eat at school remains a matter of choice, and it is perfectly reasonable that pupils are given a range of options to cater for taste, preference and special dietary requirement. The problem arises when that choice includes junk food, or any other offering which is heavy on salt, fat or sugar.

We cannot expect children to overcome their instinct when temptation is put in front of them. Parents can encourage, educate and cajole their children when it comes to choosing healthy options for school meals, but if pizza and chips are on offer, their efforts are undermined.

Some will suggest that recommended guidelines should become enforced requirements, but it would be impossible to keep track of the exact nutritional value of each child’s choices. There is a far easier way to achieve the same ultimate objective. Just remove the troublemakers from the menu. We know the main offenders, yet we still allow them to be served up to our children as school meals.

This is not the answer to all our nutrition woes, and schools must continue to educate on nutrition in the classroom as well as in the dining hall. But taking away the foods we need to avoid is a simple fix that is within our grasp.

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