From today, students at an inner-city primary school in Australia will be taking lunch earlier after a new mealtime concept was introduced to promote healthy eating and as a means for teachers to more actively monitor what the kids are consuming.
Sue Estens, principal at Hamilton South Public School in Merewether, New South Wales, tested the idea successfully at her previous school and is now hailing it as a beacon for healthy eating.
The children, who would usually eat breakfast at around 7am, now no longer have to wait until recess at 1pm for their lunchtime meal; instead, a break between 10.55 and 11.10 has been scheduled for them to top up on their energy levels.
“Kids were previously eating all their food in the first break because by then they were really hungry. This meant they would have nothing to eat throughout the afternoon. Now they can have their lunch earlier and eat it in the classroom, so teachers can see what they are consuming,” Estens told FoodNavigator-Asia. “Today's been our first day. It seemed to go well.”
She said that the concept of having lunch in the classroom is more sociable than the previous system, which had the kids eating in the playground. Also, it means that they can be indoors during the hottest part of the day, and that the school can also ascertain whether its food promotions are working.
Hamilton South has a canteen that is open three days a week, and children have the option of buying meals from it or bringing in their own packed lunches.
While Estens wouldn’t call the school’s canteen food especially healthy, this term the facility’s committee has moved to cut back on greasy items like nuggets in favour of healthier products.
“We now have options like sushi on Fridays. We are also encouraging parents to provide healthier foods in their kids’ lunchboxes, and nude foods with less packaging,” explained Estens.
She says that the new timing for lunch in the morning means that the canteen has been forced to focus on preparing healthier foods as a result of its earlier opening hours—there now isn’t sufficient time to cook hearty food, so traditional school dinner items are being replaced by quiches and salads.
Estens stressed that the new policy was not a result of lowering nutrition standards in packed lunches. “That wasn’t really a concern,” she said. “Allowing the kids to eat at a time when they are far hungrier was the main reason. Parents were keen to see something like this happen.”