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Why pupils engaging with the environment and nutrition is so important

December 9, 2020, 8:09 GMT+1
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  • Karen Cooper explains the importance of pupils engaging with the environment and nutrition...
Why pupils engaging with the environment and nutrition is so important

At Overdale Junior School we were so pleased to achieve the prestigious Gold Food for Life award despite the coronavirus pandemic. We were the first school to be awarded Gold in Leicester City and the second school to achieve Gold in the county.

Food for Life is a Soil Association programme, and encourages schools to grow food, help schools to deliver cooking on the curriculum, assist in improving school meals, learn about farming and integrate these issues into everyday learning. There is a strong emphasis on community involvement.

It’s really important to have our own vegetable patches and the pupils learn so much from them. They learn how to grow organically from seed, they harvest and cook with produce including onions, leeks, potatoes, beans and fruit such as rhubarb, blackberries, plums and apples. Through outdoor science lessons they learn about the plant life cycle, pollination, growing plants, composting, weeding and watering. They understand where food comes from and are encouraged to grow plants at home. They learn how to use simple gardening tools and, importantly, about seasonality and are more likely to try new foods if they have grown them themselves.

Healthy eating

All of the children take part in Food Routes lessons where they learn about healthy eating, cooking skills and preparing predominantly savoury snacks and meals, for example fish pie. They begin to understand where food comes from, how it is produced and find out about the five main food groups in the Eatwell Guide and how these help our bodies to grow, repair and be healthy. The children also learn how to make a healthy packed lunch. We also have food-based whole school curriculum themes like Roman Banquets and World Kitchen. In addition, there is an after-school cookery club where families enjoy cooking together.

And growing their own food definitely gives them a greater knowledge of the environment. For example, we look at how far fruit and vegetables have travelled to get to supermarkets, conserving water and growing organic produce. Children learn to respect nature and animal habitats in forest school lessons in our extensive grounds where we have a spinney, pond and stream.

Raised beds

If other schools are looking to start their own vegetable patches, I would suggest raised beds because they allow children to work at standing height. Also, different classes or year groups can have their own bed and grow things like herbs, onions, leeks, beans, carrots, salad leaves and tomatoes. While, rhubarb, fruit bushes and trees provide good harvesting opportunities for use in the school kitchen or cooking lessons. Cloches can help get seeds and plants growing quickly. Ask parents/grandparents to help out and have outdoor science lessons in the curriculum and buy suitable gardening equipment for children like gloves, trowels and forks. Activities can include building compost bins, bug hotels, planting seeds, watering, weeding and crop rotation.

The Food for Life Programme has given us the impetus, support and platform to develop a strong healthy school ethos integrating cooking and gardening into the curriculum and improving school meals. Former head teacher Mrs Hart said: “The Food for Life programme has become an integral part of diverse learning experiences we offer.”

Eating habits

The whole school takes part in practical cooking and outdoor science activities as well as promoting nutritious school meals. We have a Gold standard menu provided by our catering team and we constantly seek to encourage children to take up school dinners. During recent head teacher interviews the school council was asked to provide questions for prospective candidates. One question was about the importance of healthy eating at Overdale, which I believe reflects the priority of students themselves. The school council SNAG team (School Nutrition Action Group) has helped drive the programme forward and we have developed a robust School Food Policy to support our aims.

Each and everyday children are given the opportunity to understand and make healthy food choices; be it breakfast club, breaktime, lunchtime, cookery lessons, homework club, or Nurture lessons (for SEN/ disadvantaged children). And, while we haven’t yet banned birthday sweets in school, we do encourage thinking of different ways of celebrating such occasions!

Everyone is aware of the importance of ingraining good healthy eating habits and attitudes This is a clearly a valuable lesson for life as well as impacting on the general health and wellbeing of the school.

Karen Cooper is a teacher and Food for Life lead at Overdale Junior School