It’s midday at St Paul’s Community Primary School in Spalding and reception pupils have spilled out of their class and are heading for the hall at a trot.
There’s obvious joy as well as eager expectancy in those young faces ... because it’s lunchtime.
There’s no pizza, French fries, or gooey fat and sugar-laden puds.
It’s all healthy, nutritious and balanced fare with options including oven cooked fish and potatoes, steamed vegetables, salad and fruit.
And the children are just loving it.
Schools are leading the way on healthy eating, but they’re doing that against a tide of TV advertising that’s awash with junk food.
We are working with Sharon Kenny, our catering supervisor, to reduce the amount of chocolate and sugary snacks that children still have in their lunch boxes. Parents think that these foods will keep their children happy and are often unaware of the sugar highs and lows they experience following their lunchtime if such foods are eaten. This can have a dramatic effect on their concentration and productivity.Headteacher Kira Nicholls
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has called for a 9pm watershed on ads for foods drenched in fat, salt and sugar, like crisps, pizza and chocolate.
According to the BHF, there were 13 such ads during one X Factor show alone last year, when up to 1.2million children were watching.
St Paul’s headteacher Kira Nicholls has joined fellow South Holland headteachers Louise Yarnell and Jane Fitzgerald in supporting the proposed ban – and says advertising could be used instead to promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles.
Miss Nicholls said: “I fully support the BHF’s proposed ban as it is advertising that sells.
“If children are not exposed to the variety of junk food, they are not going to ask for it – and in some cases demand it – from their parents.
“We should as a nation promote healthy eating across the board.”
Until the autumn term, St Paul’s had meals delivered in hot boxes from another school’s kitchens and children had to make their menu choices three weeks in advance.
But then a kitchen pod was lowered into the grounds by crane after the county council won a key £1.2million bid from the Department for Education under the universal free school meals programme.
It means children at St Paul’s enjoy cafeteria-style service and choose what they want on their plates seconds before they sit down to eat.
Miss Nicholls eats the school meals herself and said the new kitchen has seen a greater uptake of schools meals by pupils and staff.
And far less food is wasted.
She said: “I have been astounded by the amount of salad and the amount of fresh fruit that the children have eaten and we never have any left at the end of service at all.”
All Key Stage 1 pupils are entitled to free school meals and the majority choose to have them, while in Key Stage 2 its 50/50 between school lunches and pack-ups from home.
In part, the BHF’s campaign against junk food TV ads was prompted by research that shows as many as 32 per cent of children in the East Midlands leave primary school obese or overweight.
Miss Nicholls says: “I wouldn’t say we have a massive problem with obesity, but we have got children who are unhealthy because of their diets.”
The next step for promoting healthy eating at St Paul’s is to try to improve the nutritional value of foods in pack-ups.
Miss Nicholls says that will in part be achieved by training some Year 6 pupils to be “lunchtime champions” – their role will be to praise fellow pupils who have taken in healthy foods and are eating a balance diet. There will be lessons on healthy foods to include in lunch boxes.
She said: “We are working with Sharon Kenny, our catering supervisor, to reduce the amount of chocolate and sugary snacks that children still have in their lunch boxes.
“Parents think that these foods will keep their children happy and are often unaware of the sugar highs and lows they experience following their lunchtime if such foods are eaten. This can have a dramatic effect on their concentration and productivity.”
The healthy eating ethos has included cookery workshops where children cook alongside their parents.
“We teach them simple, nutritious recipes and show that healthy eating doesn’t cost a fortune,” Miss said. “There seems to be this perception that healthy food and vegetables costs a lot of money, but they don’t have to do so.”
Coming up is a project where Year 6 pupils will cook a three-course meal for their parents. The school has its own allotment and Year 3 pupils used some produce to make fresh soup.
• Eating a balanced diet of wholesome, nutritious food is one key to being healthy.
Exercise plays a major part and St Paul’s does what it can to keep pupils active ... and to inspire them.
In 2014, British Olympic swimming star Jo Jackson put the whole school through its paces with an exercise programme including star jumps and press-ups.
Following Jo’s visit, St Paul’s put half a dozen pupils forward for a swimming scholarship and they are now making good progress at a swimming club.
One swim star of the future, St Paul’s pupil Emma Croker, now competes for the county and she was presented with a swimming certificate by Jo.
“She was absolutely awe-struck when Jo was here,” said Miss Nicholls.
After school clubs are held for sports including football, badminton and netball. There’s also a fitness club for staff and pupils. Last year, when weather permitted, Miss Nicholls led a running club for the children.