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Please Sir, can I have some more?

It is refreshing that the Government has introduced a new incentive of free school meals for young children.

Over the last 10 years Jamie Oliver has campaigned for healthy school lunches. I applaud him for his tireless campaigning to promote and make changes in what our children eat whilst they are at school. Children should be given freshly cooked food.

One of the things I strongly dislike about the school lunch environment is the use, in some schools, of these trays:

lunch tray

My reason for disliking them is that prisoners’ meals are served on these trays! Surely our children deserve better than this?

There is excellent practice in the classrooms, but then at lunch-times there is a shift in quality, which could easily be avoided. In essence, quality practice should be seen in all areas and at all times throughout the school day.

A few schools have defended the practice with comments along the lines of “we are a large school and have to make sure that all the children are feed, especially with the launch of free school meals”. Yes, children do need to have a lunch, for a few children this might be their only substantial meal of the day, but it shouldn’t be presented like a factory production line.

Lunch-time should have a focus on children’s personal, social and emotional development: there are many learning opportunities to be had at lunch-time.

Vic Goddard, the inspirational Secondary school head from Passmore, speaks with passion when he tells how he prioritised funds for the toilets in his new school building. Vic stated “No smells; they’re cleaned four times a day because if that’s right for a motorway service station, it’s right for a school’ Guardian 29th April 2014.

Vic clearly had his pupils in mind when making changes. Therefore all head teachers can make lunch-times more personal for their pupils, especially the younger children – and most importantly for the children in Reception, who are experiencing lunch in school this term for their first time.

A parent said to me that in her son’s school, a three form entry that sometimes has a bulge of four forms, they replaced those awful trays and canteen style tables with plates, bowls and round tables. She went on to say:  ‘I remember both of my older boys talking about how horrible the trays were as ‘your custard spills into the next section and mixes with your pasta. These trays make it easier for the adults not the children’.

This is echoed by Katie Atkins, Headteacher of Rosendale Primary School, Lambeth, London. Rosendale operates a three form entry school.

‘I believe that the children’s experience at lunch should be as pleasant and as much like home as possible. Eating is a social experience and we want children to eat well. I think that if these are your motivators, rather than speed and ease for the staff, you can make proper crockery and cutlery work.

The children collect their dinner on a plate, get handed a knife and fork and then sit down to eat. When they have eaten their dinner they clear away and then go and get their pudding.  I don’t know about you but I was never allowed to have my pudding at the same time as my dinner! And of course what we found was that lots of children were eating their pudding first and then throwing away their dinner.

I made sure that I explained the rationale to everyone so that people understood why we were changing. It took some investment of time to get it organised and so myself and other members of senior staff were in the dining hall for several days to help out and see it smoothly initiated. 

I can’t imagine serving lunch any other way now and, as a result, children eat more and have a pleasant experience at lunch-time.’

If Ms Atkins can do this within a large primary school, it should not be an issue for other schools.

Would we as adults eat our meals off these trays? No. Then we should provide children with appropriate crockery that respects them as individual human beings. Yes, schools are institutions, but, if we want to provide a holistic education for our children, then lunch-times do indeed matter for every child.

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  • Tiffany Clutterbuck

    Thank you for this interesting article, Laura. I had no idea children were fed at school using these awful trays. I’m appalled.

    When we work so hard in Early Years to have a holistic approach and to view parts of our day with the children such as mealtimes as equally important activities for their learning and development, it is so frustrating to see this work undone when they go off to Primary. Why is there not the same approach taken after the EYFS? Why are teachers not sitting with their children having lunch, role-modelling and engaging them in conversation? Why are the children not encouraged to take part in serving and clearing away? This pastoral element to our national curriculum seems to be missing, and is only seen in schools that have outstanding leadership motivated by what is right for the children.

  • Wendy Atherton

    I agree that all meal times should not only be sociable but how you expect your own meals to be served if you were out, in a restaurant or at home. We sit the children around a table and team members sit with them, food is served onto the table via serving dishes nicely presented. we all want to look at our food and think how nice it looks before we eat it, its the same for children no matter what age.
    The food is then served to the children at the table bringing in discussion and personal choice. Where able the children serve themselves, resulting in them eating food they maybe wouldn’t try. Seconds are always available, some children prefer smaller portions so will have more rather than be over faced with one large portion.
    Meals are not rushed to adhere to the nursery routine but relaxed and sociable, the children learn that it is a nice time to share with our friends. Dessert is not seen until the main meal is cleared and the tables tidy again.
    Water is set out in jugs and left available.
    After lunch the children are given a short period of quiet time to settle prior to sleep time.
    Wendy Atherton
    Daintry Hall Day Nursery/Pre-School and Forest School

  • Katheryn Davies

    Lovely article Laura, it reinforces the importance of reflecting on what we do in every area of our practice. One thing I have never understood about school lunchtimes is how the adult:child ratio becomes a ‘free-for-all’. In the EYFS ratios are 1:8, 1:13 and in reception 1:30. When it comes to lunchtime there can be hundreds of children and a handful of mid-day assistants. How daunting for a child to start reception and after lunch in the hall, told to ‘go and play’ in the school playground/field which must seem huge to them with very little adult supervision, just at the time they probably most need it!

  • Diana Blaj

    This article goes straight to the point, oh dear ,primary schools:-) As someone said before we are doing a hard work in the foundation stage , we give the children the opportunity to develop independently , use the cups, pour water in their cups, use the fork and the knife, have a nice clean plate for the main course,another one for the dessert, offer them the opportunity to help themselves and dish the food and after all of these they go in the primary school and treated like they are institutionalised. We try also to make them feel like home, I don’t think that tray does the job for this.Thanks a lot Laura, I do feel for the children who must eat on such an appalling tray!

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