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Scruffy canteens put children off school lunches

Campaign calls for better eating facilities to encourage healthy meals and cut down on waste
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
child eating a salad

26th February 2010 - Peeling paint, plastic cutlery and long queues for the till are putting children off their food, according to new research.

An independent study discovered that cramped canteens and high noise levels also deter children from eating school meals.

Now, a campaign’s been launched to improve facilities, with a panel of celebrities judging a ‘canteen makeover’ competition.

The research was carried out by market research company 2CV on behalf of the School Food Trust. Fieldworkers spoke to 100 children at three English secondary schools in the north, the midlands and the south. They also interviewed head teachers, governors and canteen staff.

Less food wasted

They found that shabby or badly run canteens led to a lower number of children having school lunches. Judy Hargadon, Chief Executive at the School Food Trust, says in a statement that “It is clear that when children walk into a dining hall that is crowded, noisy and unattractive, they will vote with their feet - no matter what is on the menu.”

Further experiments by the School Food Trust tracked the eating behaviours of children in primary and secondary schools and found that even small improvements to dining spaces can make young people eat more.

In fact, a series of experiment which saw the introduction of tablecloths, staggered queuing and an end to plastic plates and cutlery, led to the average child throwing away 38% less food.

The research follows a concerted effort to boost children’s health and nutrition by improving school lunches. Earlier this month, a report by the School Food Trust said that, although children in primary schools were putting more healthy food on their plates, much of it was going straight into the bin.

Lunch: A special occasion

Jane Nicholls, Deputy Head Teacher of Langley Park Girls School in Beckenham, Kent, where one of the canteen makeover experiments took place, said in a statement: “The small changes we made to the dining room made a huge difference to our pupils and turned lunch into a special occasion where the girls took the time to sit down and really appreciate their food.

“It has made it obvious to us that encouraging healthy eating is as much about providing an attractive environment as improving the food.”

Dick and Dom - In the Canteen

As a result of the findings, the School Food Trust has launched a ‘Canteen Rescue’ campaign. Children and parents are being invited to enter a competition to design their new school dining area. A panel of celebrities, including children’s TV presenters Dick and Dom, Big Brother winner Craig Phillips and TV chef Brian Turner will judge the entrants.

The top five will get the chance for a professional makeover for their school canteen.

Dick and Dom have sent the campaign a message of support, saying “It's really important that kids eat well, and making the canteen a fun place to be will get more kids eating school dinners.”

Reviewed on February 26, 2010

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