Monthly Archives: December 2012

Bringing it to the table

Tricia web

Are you an always, a sometimes or a never?

I’m talking, of course, about sitting at the table to eat as a family.

New research from the Journal of Epidemiology and Child Health looked at the eating habits of almost 2,400 children in south London.

On the day of their study, they found that children whose families said they always ate together round a table ate five portions of fruit and veg. Those whose families said they sometimes did almost got their 5-a-day, reaching 4.6 portions, while children whose families who said they never ate together at a table got to 3.3 portions. Read a good summary on BBC News.

It’s food for thought, and it’s an effect that we see time and time again in our work: children learn from our eating and cooking habits as adults, whether that’s as their parents or carers, childminders or nursery nurses, teachers, cooks, lunchtime supervisors and all sorts of others who work with children in the community from youth clubs, to Guide and Scout groups.

In fact, eating with others of any age often has a great ‘peer effect’ for encouraging them to try new things and eat healthier foods. It’s the principle behind all of the work to improve food at school. Children may turn up their noses at a particular vegetable, but if it’s in a dish that their friends have all got on their plates that day they are more likely to give it a go. We asked parents about this in a survey back in 2010, and 80% of those in our study said their children had tried foods in school that they never eat at home. Many of those foods were types of fruit and veg.

But it’s not just in the eating. Improving kids’ fruit and veg intake is about cooking, too. Research from our Let’s Get Cooking programme – which helps people of all ages improve their diet by learning to cook, and has created more than 5,000 cooking clubs all over the country – found that more than half of those who take part (58%) said they ate a healthier diet after learning to cook, and 92% use their new skills again back at home. A smaller study with very young club members as part of the research found that learning to cook may improve recognition of healthier foods, particularly bananas, tomatoes and peas, for four to eight year olds. And using food in play is one of our biggest tips for early years settings in our nationally-recognised guidelines for healthy food and drink for under-fives.

So if you’ve got a fussy eater in your house, or if your kids are getting nowhere near five portions of fruit and veg in a day, there are two things to put on your New Year’s resolutions list:

Eat together and get them cooking!

Tricia’s our Senior Research and Nutrition Manager. Email Tricia


Hungry + school = kids who won’t reach their potential


Doesn’t it feel like we’re hearing stories like this all too often at the moment? A Children’s Society poll of almost 600 teachers has found that many see children going hungry during the school day. Some of these children don’t qualify for free school meals and don’t have money from home to buy lunch.

The charity estimates that there are around 1.5 million children in England who would currently qualify for free school meals. According to the DfE’s most recent census data, almost 1.3 million children in England are actually registered for free school meals (January 2012 census). Our most recent annual survey estimates that just under 1.1m children are actually taking up their free school meals.

That means that:

• At least 200,000 children aren’t registered for free school meals, but may qualify for them
• Around 200,000 children are registered for free school meals but don’t take them up.

Crucially, we also know that at least some of those children who aren’t signed up are missing out because of confusion about how to get them. In our research on this, we’ve found that some families report not realising they have to register, or that they don’t know how, or that they need help with the process.

It’s a big concern, because we know that for many children their free meal at school can be the only proper meal of the day. Research shows – and any teacher will tell you – that when children eat better, they can perform better in class.

There’s been some great work to make registration for free school meals easier and we work with schools all over the country on making sure families know when they qualify – you’ll find lots of advice and ideas on this on our website. But a big part of getting more families to register for their free school meals is about making school meals the most popular option for lunchtime at school. If schools are able to serve up great food, in a dining room that kids want to spend time in, with enough time for kids to eat and relax for a bit at lunchtime without having to rush, take up of both paid and free meals tends to go up.

When more children who pay for meals are opting to eat in the canteen, we tend to see more children who qualify for free meals taking them up – the peer effect. So all of these issues are part of the much bigger picture; of trying to make school meals the option that every child wants to go for. That way, we can help make sure that a decent meal during the school day is getting to all of those children who most rely on it.

Claire’s our Media Manager. Email Claire.