Alumni Expert View: Tackling holiday hunger and the importance of school meals for children
Herts alumna Ramatu Nguru (BSc (Hons) Nutrition, 2016) is a registered nutritionist and meal planner for the Hertfordshire based schools catering company HCL. She has seen first-hand the impact of food insecurity on low-income families during the school holidays.
Tackling holiday hunger
“I am concerned that food insecurity is becoming more prevalent in the UK and that families are unable to access enough food to meet their dietary energy requirements. Children who experience food insecurity are also more likely to experience ‘holiday hunger’. This is when children, especially those who rely on free school meals during term-time, fall into a nutritional and calorie deficit in the school holidays.
Free food provision integrated within holiday clubs presents nutritionists like me with an opportunity to reduce the nutritional deficit some children experience. I work on the programme ‘Fit, Fed and Read’, a project in Hertfordshire that focuses on providing holiday support for primary school children (8-11 years old) who are eligible for free school meals. The aim of the programme is to help tackle inequalities evident in Hertfordshire’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, providing physical activity opportunities, a healthy meal (and healthy eating workshops), and literacy support.
Colleagues and I at HCL provide each site with a cook for the duration of the initiative and deliver healthy eating workshops at each site each week. Registered Nutritionists like me deliver hour-long interactive workshops on topics such as ‘Traffic Light Labelling’, ‘The Eatwell Guide’ and ‘Portion Sizing’. The aim of the sessions are to guide and support the children to make small changes that lead to healthier habits in the long term.
Overall, the programme has been a great success and the feedback from both the young participants and their parents and carers has been extremely positive. HCL is pleased to continue to support the initiative which is set to continue throughout the summer holidays”
The importance of school meals
“I am concerned about the levels of childhood obesity and see this as one of the biggest future public health challenges. I see school meals as an important opportunity to improve children’s health. Approximately one-third of a child’s daily energy and nutrient intake is provided by school lunch. In addition to this a school lunch may be a child’s only meal eaten in the day.
At HCL we deliver approximately 56,000 primary school meals per day in Hertfordshire. We are passionate about using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. When planning a school menu I work on a 3-week nutritious meal plan that complies with healthy eating standards and guidelines, but also ensuring meals are fun!”