Make a meal of it

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I have been asked by the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) to be an ambassador for its National Schools Meals Week (NSMW). This is the biggest national healthy eating awareness week about school meals in Britain. This year it takes place on 5-9 November and encourages everyone to 'get involved' in preparing healthy school dinners.

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This has taken place since 1993 and is organised by LACA. The week encourages pupils in nursery schools and primary schools, and students in secondary schools, academies and colleges to have a healthy school meal that meets the nutrient standards laid down by the respective national body or Government.

In my role as ambassador I have been asked to promote the event to encourage people to get involved and I am hoping you can help me spread the word.

GOOD HABITS START YOUNG

I was very interested in becoming an ambassador for National School Meals Week as I am keen on ensuring that children gain an awareness of healthy eating. I think it is important to start this from a young age and strongly believe there is an important opportunity to promote this through events like National Schools Meals Week.

Last year I looked at the National Schools Meals Week ideas and adapted the activities to enable the nursery children to take part in a full week's programme of activities involving parents as well as staff. The children enjoyed the week so much that when the opportunity arose to become an ambassador, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try and involve more nurseries in the event as many lifetime eating habits start at a very early age.

I had already devised and implemented Healthy Me Days at my setting, which I am now responsible for planning and which I support staff members in organising. These take place one day each month and focus on many aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

This reflects my determination to educate young children about such topics and I am proud of how established - and how successful - these days now are. They involve parents and families and I often provide activities for children to carry out at home. All of this helps to get the message across.

Events such as National School Meals Week are needed to help children adopt healthy lifestyles from a young age to try to combat the increasing problem of childhood obesity.

NATIONWIDE PUSH

There has been a dramatic rise in childhood obesity as children snack on unhealthy options and take less exercise. This is why the Government and the regional assemblies have taken action and introduced nutritional standards in England, Scotland and Wales.

Obesity is the condition of being seriously overweight, to such an extent that it will have an effect on health now and in later life. The two reasons childhood obesity occurs are:

  • Eating an unhealthy diet, often too high in sugars and fat
  • Not taking enough exercise to burn off all the calories consumed.

Obesity increases the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This is normally a disease seen in later life. More teenage children have type 2 diabetes as a consequence of being obese and this can result in low self-esteem. In the UK, around 27 per cent of children are now overweight and many of them have overweight parents. It is often because of the lifestyle choice of the family. This is why the Government has been using the Change 4 Life campaign, of which LACA is a partner, to tackle attitudes.

School caterers in England, Wales and Scotland are playing a key role in promoting healthy eating. They are delivering food that meets detailed nutritional standards and supporting whole school approaches to educate young people about healthy lifestyles. National School Meals Week is just one of the marketing tools they are using.

A school meal plays an important part in a child's school day because it:

  • Recharges children so that they can enjoy the full day at school
  • Keeps children alert so they make the most of afternoon lessons
  • Lets children try new and different foods
  • Supports school policies and whole school approaches to healthy eating.

There are themes for every day of National Schools Meals Week, such as 'get celebrating', with ideas for creating a party around school meals; 'get exploring', with international dishes; and 'get pudding' - serving traditional fare such as rice puddings and crumbles which have been school favourites for many generations. So do put the dates in your diary and get ready to support the healthy eating cause.

Further information: http://www.iloveschoolmeals.co.uk/.

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