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Food For Thought

How many school children would opt for a healthy meal without any adult guidance?

One of the biggest challenges parents face is the perennial problem of ensuring their child has a healthy balanced diet.

My own parents had an uncanny knack of disguise when it came to encompassing the vegetable patch within what was aptly named “my special mash”.

Whether it the age old trick of camouflage or last resort strategy of blackmail the ongoing food battle between parent and child has been around for generations.

In a world where fast food is king this conflict has become exacerbated even further.

However one pioneering school, Washingborough Academy, may well have found the solution to this problem: if you want children to eat healthy food then get them to grow it!

This is certainly the mantra of head teacher Jason O’Rourke who believes involving children in the production of food will create an ownership and curiosity to stimulate healthy eating.

Fresh from being awarded the National Soil Association Gold Standard Award for catering, a clearly passionate Mr O’Rourke explained: “The children choose what to grow.”

“They are planting it, nurturing and harvesting it.

“All students have food education lessons in which they prepare and cook the food they have grown.

“If they have a personal investment in the food then children are more likely to want to know what it tastes like.”

The issue of children’s diet and the associated health implications is certainly becoming an ever increasing concern for our schools.

“There is a big problem with child obesity in this country,” Mr O’Rourke said.

“One in five children entering primary school are classified as overweight or clinically obese, increasing to one in three by the time they leave.”

Figures released by Public Health England illustrate the serious impact this situation is having on our nation’s children.

Dietary driven type 2 diabetes has generally been a disease associated with adults but the condition is now being found in children as young as 7.

A study carried out on children under 17 revealed that 95% of those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were overweight and 83% obese.

The diagnosis of asthma in children has also increased with results indicating a prevalence rate of 19.7% in children classified as obese compared to 12.2% in the remaining population.

The main area of cultivation is centred on the school orchard, growing 22 different types of apples which are used for a range of desserts.

Additionally there are 15 vegetable patches producing an array of crops for the schools canteen.

The success of the scheme is intrinsically dependent on educating children to have the capacity to make their own lifestyle choices.

Ultimately will the habits instilled within the parameters of the school canteen transcend to the choices children make when beyond the constraints of parents or teachers.

How many children, given the choice, will choose an apple over a packet of sweets or vegetable soup over burger and fries?

It needs to become a lifestyle selection, ingrained in children as a natural choice as oppose to a reluctant alternative.

The signs at Washingborough are promising with the children undoubtedly investing in Mr O’Rourke’s mantra.

Claudia Fillingham, 9, enthusiastically explained: “I love the fact that we get to see where our foods come from.”

Classmate Campbell Gray, 10, endorsed this view.

“I enjoy growing our own food because then when we cook with it I know the food is fresh,” he said.

The success of Washingborough is infectious with the school now delivering its food produce to two nearby schools.

Whilst the seeds of success are being sewn at micro level there will need to be a cataclysmic cultural shift nationally to tackle the obesity problem pervading our countries children.

For now, all Mr O’Rourke can focus on is ensuring he educates the children of Washingborough to make the correct dietary choices in their future.

Whilst a child’s academic education is important it becomes insignificant when compared to their health.

As Mr O’Rourke succinctly explained: “Learning your times table is important but it will not make you healthier or increase your lifespan.”

“Educating students on the importance of food and a healthy diet will.”

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