### The Importance of School Lunches in Europe
Some children love it, some children dread it, some children depend on it, and some children simply do not get it. The midday meal that punctuates the school day across Europe differs wildly in cost and content from country to country. In some countries, it is paid for wholly or partly by the state, while in others, parents foot the bill.
Growing Awareness of Health and Social Inequalities
Although there has been a shift towards more nutritious school lunches in recent years, there is a growing awareness of the role a decent meal a day can play in tackling both health problems and social inequalities. Nearly a third of Europe’s primary-age children today are either overweight or obese, and almost a quarter of the EU’s children are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Experts argue that failure to invest now to prevent chronic health issues such as obesity and diabetes will lead to costly problems in the future. Moreover, failure to help families struggling to feed their children will only deepen existing social divisions.
The Role of Public Policy, Investment, and Education
The answers to these problems lie in smart public policy, proper investment, and education. Children need to learn about what they eat and why it matters. It is crucial to ensure that children have that all-important daily meal, regardless of their background.
### Sweden: Greens and Variety
In Sweden, school lunch is highly sought after at Fryshuset Hammarby Sjöstad, where a queue starts forming outside the canteen as early as 10 am. The school serves 1,400 people daily, including pupils aged 13 to 19, teachers, and staff. All pupils eat for free and can help themselves to as much food as they want. The focus at this school is on greens and introducing children to new foods. With rising childhood obesity rates and a lack of vegetable consumption at home, it is crucial to provide nutritious meals in schools.
### Spain: The Mediterranean Diet
Spain, like many other countries, faces the challenge of childhood obesity. San Ignacio de Loyola, a school in Torrelodones, serves lunch based on the Mediterranean diet. Fresh, natural vegetables, legumes, and proteins like meat and fish are prioritized. The school aims to stimulate children’s enjoyment of eating in the canteen by having the head chef interact with them during mealtime. The central government has also introduced measures to improve children’s health, such as increasing the inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals.
### Italy: Incorporating Organic Ingredients
Principe di Piemonte, an infant and primary school in Rome, emphasizes a carefully planned repertoire of dishes with a strong emphasis on incorporating organic vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, and poultry. The school works with an outside company contracted by Rome council to ensure the quality of ingredients. In Italy, there is universal provision of school meals, but prices are subsidized or free only for low-income families. The challenge lies in minimizing waste and ensuring that children eat their meals. Meal portions are carefully measured to avoid obesity.
### Estonia: Blending Modern and Traditional
Estonian school lunches blend modern and traditional elements, mimicking homemade food that could have been made by an Estonian grandmother. Choices include chicken and vegetable soup, mincemeat soup, and vegan soup. Rye bread is a staple addition. All ingredients and nutritional data are accessible online for parents to see. The feedback of children is also valued, allowing for adjustments to be made based on their preferences.
In conclusion, school lunches play a significant role in addressing health problems and social inequalities among children in Europe. Smart public policy, investment, and education are essential in ensuring that children have access to nutritious meals that cater to their needs and preferences. By prioritizing health and providing equal opportunities for all children, Europe can tackle the challenges of obesity, poverty, and social exclusion.
Original Story at www.theguardian.com – 2023-10-13 13:06:00