Our Chief Executive at the Children’s Food Trust, Linda Cregan, talks about the past year in children’s food, and the one ahead.
Christmas can put you in a reflective mood. Rest, family time and the prospect of a brand new year is often when you assess the past year’s successes and challenges, and look forward to the opportunities of the next year.
For many, work schedules don’t always let up before the Christmas holidays begin, so time for genuine reflection before the break is rare. But sometimes there are brief interludes, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy one of these earlier this month when I joined influential public sector catering colleagues at the House of Commons for a round table, hosted by Cost Sector Catering.
Our discussions, which will be shared by the magazine early next year, prompted me to think about the progress the Trust, our partners and others have made in improving the access to better food and food skills for our children during 2014 – and the fundamental challenges that we still need to address if we are to meet our goal of ensuring that every child enjoys the right to eat healthy, nutritious food, irrelevant of their personal circumstances.
In November it was the 25th anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child – a commitment to giving all children good nutrition as part of their inalienable right to a healthy, happy and fulfilled life – exactly what the Trust works everyday to achieve.
Yet a quarter of a century later, there are still too many children – and too many adults – in this country, who want for good, healthy food. They suffer a sort of malnutrition that is far from the haunting images of emaciated children on famine stricken plains that undoubtedly helped to shape the wording of the Convention back in 1989. This modern malnutrition stems from eating poor quality, processed food that is laden with high levels of salt, sugar and fat. It is a diet that condemns too many to obesity related illness and early death.
The implications for our society are profound. A quarter of adults and one in five school children are now obese, up from 15% just 20 years ago. Diabetes and other obesity related conditions are increasing too, and how awful is it that this year we were hearing of the return of rickets in some children. As well as costing lives this puts our NHS under intense pressure dealing with obesity related illnesses. NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens might well be justified for calling obesity ‘the new smoking’.
Of course significant strides have been made during 2014 to give more children access to healthy, nutritious food, and the Trust is proud to be playing a key role in these efforts.
The introduction of free school meals for infant pupils in 16,000 schools back in September was an historic time and has the potential to impact on the health and education of our children for years to come. Working with LACA and our other partners, our advisors are helping schools overcome practical issues associated with what is a major expansion of school meal provision.
Cooking is back in the school curriculum, and we’re training those who care for under-fives in how to provide food in line with the national food and drink guidelines, which we launched in 2012.
The introduction of the new school food standards, which the Trust has been instrumental in developing will come into force on 1 January and through our menu checking service we’re helping school caterers make sure that their new menus meet those standards.
Changing the cooking habits of families at home is equally important because this directly influences what children eat. Our network of 5,000 Let’s Get Cooking Clubs has helped to get more than three million children and adults cooking, with 58% of participants telling us that they make healthier food choices after taking part, and we were pleased to be able to reach more children and their families this year by extending cookery clubs into 50 Tesco stores for the entire summer holidays.
The Trust is working hard to make a positive difference but it’s clear to me and my colleagues that there is still much to do in this modern war against want.
Few of us can predict exactly what lies in store for us in 2015 but one thing is certain – the Trust, its partners and everyone concerned with children’s food won’t relent until we can fulfil the ambitions of the UN Convention and ensure that every child has the right to enjoy healthy and nutritious food.