By Rachel Benbrook
The state of kid’s nutrition is getting some renewed attention in the U.K. in response to a new report released by the UK Soil Association‘s Food for Life program.
In particular, the British government’s program that provides free, fresh produce to young children in state funded schools, the School Fruit and Veg Scheme, is getting poor marks. In fact, improving the program is the #1 recommendation in the new report.
Food for Life surveyed teachers and students, conducted freedom of information requests, and researched pesticide residues to evaluate the quality of produce being provided to children, and the effectiveness of the School Fruit and Veg Scheme, which is supposed in improve nutrition and encourage fruit and vegetable consumption.
But, “this government scheme is having an entirely counter-productive effect,” head of policy at the Soil Association Rob Percival says in a Guardian article about the report.
They found that the produce provided at schools was usually poor quality, imported and none-too fresh. “Children are being presented with produce so lacking in flavour and texture that it is teaching them to actively dislike – or at least distrust – fruit and veg,” says Percival.
One teacher surveyed put it bluntly: “Pears are under-ripe and hard, carrots have been sweating in bags for days. Generally, the produce is not as fresh as we would hope, and this means the children don’t eat it.”
Plus, Food for Life states in their report that “government data also shows that the produce supplied through the scheme contains higher pesticide residues than equivalent produce found on supermarket shelves, including pesticides associated with a negative effect upon children’s cognitive development.”
They recommend an overhaul of the program to require that a higher proportion of the produce supplied to schools “is British, local and organic,” meaning that it would be “fresher, of known provenance, lower in pesticide residues and more enjoyable for children.” Freedom of information requests revealed that currently, just 13% of the apples and 5% of pears – two frequent flyers in the Fruit and Veg scheme – are sourced from the UK.
On a side note, this Hygeia writer is a mom to school-age kids here in the US. My boys at times curse Michelle Obama’s name for bringing “healthy” foods to the classroom. Underripe fruit, unseasoned cucumber slices, and celery sticks with no dip aren’t very appetizing to anyone, much less kids.
Fortunately, we are pursuing healthy eating habits here at home, with considerable success. My boys have learned to love our wonderful, usually fresh Pacific Northwest fruits and veggies, but many other kids are not so lucky, and bad first impressions at school make a mother’s challenge at home all the harder.
So, kudos to the Soil Association of the UK for highlighting the need to provide school children tasty, high-quality fruits and veggies. While harder to source, especially out of season, and sometimes more costly than pears masquerading as golf balls, aren’t our kids worth it?
Food for Life, “State of the Nation: Children’s food in England, 2018,” 2018.
Rebecca Smithers, “Fruit and veg used in scheme for English schools ‘often inedible’,” The Guardian, Published online 11/27/2018, Data accessed: 12/3/2018.