Nurturing Minds and Bodies: Healthy Eating in Schools

Establishing healthy eating habits during childhood gives a strong foundation for a lifetime of wellbeing. Schools play a crucial role in promoting healthy dietary behaviours, so by creating an environment that prioritises nutritious food choices, we give our pupils the ability and the confidence to make informed decisions about their diet and cultivate habits that support their physical and intellectual growth. 

Healthy eating is not purely about physical health. It has a wider effect, improving cognitive function, academic performance and a person’s overall wellbeing. Research has consistently proven the connection between nutrition and academic achievement, with studies showing students who have balanced diets perform better academically and display evidence of improved concentration and memory.

A study published in the Journal of School Health found students who consumed a higher quality diet, including more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, had better academic performance compared to those with poorer dietary habits. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition indicates nutrients (such as omega-3 fatty acids) are essential for cognitive development in children, and an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, such as iron and zinc, has been linked to improved cognitive function and attention span.

Education and awareness are the first steps in helping pupils and students understand the importance of healthy eating. By including nutrition education in the Paradigm Trust curriculum across the stages, we are able to teach them about the importance of balanced diets, food groups, the importance of vitamins and minerals, and nutritional value. This culminates in our Hospitality and Catering option that students can take at KS4.

As well as standard lessons, the Trust organises workshops and guest lessons featuring professionals from the food and health industries to engage pupils and provide them with practical knowledge about healthy eating. Farm trips are arranged so children can understand more about the provenance and seasonality of food, and we use resources including digital media and printed posters in schools to reinforce key messages about nutrition and healthy food choices.

Alongside learning about the principles of nutrition and healthy eating, pupils have practical cooking lessons to teach them these valuable life skills. They introduce the concept of creating nutritious meals from scratch instead of relying on unhealthy pre-prepared food, and give an understanding of the processes involved in cooking.

To encourage healthy eating habits, it’s important that students always have access to nutritious food while at school. School lunches at Paradigm Trust schools are provided by Lunchtime Co., a caterer that prepares its menus carefully, following the School Food Standards Guidance in combination with the nutrition criteria of the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services. Variety is a key consideration in what they create, so different fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, meat and fish are incorporated across the week, to serve food that looks good and tastes good too. 

But it’s not just lunchtimes that are important for healthy eating, there needs to be a focus throughout the school day. Paradigm Trust has implemented measures to ensure pupils are always able to eat healthily; from EYFS, when pupils are supplied with daily fruit and vegetable snacks, to secondary school where vending machines contain a wide range of healthier options. 

To create a supportive environment for healthy eating, we design school spaces that encourage healthy behaviours. These range from providing designated eating areas to integrating health-oriented messages throughout the school. A supportive environment reinforces the importance of healthy eating and complements educational efforts.

Establishing healthy eating habits in children and young people is only possible with full buy-in from the adults in their lives. By gaining support from parents, teachers and other prominent influences, it becomes easier to promote a culture of healthy eating. This can take many forms, such as including stakeholders in school meal planning, nutrition education, and extracurricular activities to build a shared commitment to student health. 

Promoting healthy eating in our schools is a vital investment in the wellbeing and future of our children and young people. By prioritising nutrition education, providing access to nutritious food, teaching culinary skills, engaging stakeholders and creating supportive environments, we empower students to make informed choices that support their physical, cognitive and emotional health.

Last updated June 4, 2024