Any school considering Outsourcing School Lunches must take into account the same considerations as students’ parents and caregivers in deciding on the most appropriate options, most especially with regard to the three key factors of nutritional value, cost and convenience.
Yet, these three factors can often conflict; cheap and convenient foods – those epitomised by unhealthy ‘take-aways’ – are often of low nutritional value. While common-sense dictates how adults balance cost vs convenience vs nutrition, the food options presented to growing children (the primary concern for both schools and students’ whanau) should be carefully considered, diverse and clearly labelled.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”4703″ align=”left”]
In other words, any food provided to children as an outsourced lunch option must, first and foremost, be varied and honest. The phrase ‘no hidden nasties’ comes to mind: children, parents and young people need to be able to make educated decisions about what to eat, with plenty of nutritious and healthy options available to outsource. Only then can the balance of cost and convenience be calculated so that informed choices can be made about what foods children are offered at lunchtime.
With this in mind, schools and parents/caregivers can examine in more specific detail how these (and other factors) impact on what is provided for students at lunchtime, and how.
It goes without saying that optimal nutrition is essential during childhood and adolescence, when students are experiencing periods of rapid growth – not just physically, but also emotionally, socially and cognitively. And the foods that children consume during their formative years have a vital impact on this growth – and on their health in general. Indeed, it is increasingly recognised that the eating habits and behaviours that emerge at this stage of a young person’s life persist into adulthood; establishing healthy eating attitudes and patterns, therefore, can make a lifelong contribution to overall health and well-being.
To resassure and inform parents, it is worth schools checking official health recommendations for children and young people (for example, the advice available on the HealthEd website https://www.healthed.govt.nz/home) and providing their own guidance for parents and caregivers (say, as part of the information on school lunch options, including outsourced ones).
Reputable suppliers of outsourced school lunches will provide full details of the nutritional value of their lunch options.
Similalrly, responsible lunch providers should provide parents and whanau information on how their lunch offerings reflect official nutritional advice – for instance, which of the four major food groups their products ‘tick off’.
Of course, children being children, many of their favourite foods – those most promoted by food advertising – may be high in sugar, salt and/or fat, and the healthiest drink option, water, may not always be the one chosen by children.
However, even here children can be nudged towards choosing healthy options from an outsourcing supplier, especially if the healthier choices are packaged and delivered in exciting ways. Plus, encouraging children to choose healthier options for themselves, rather than having them imposed upon them, gives the responsibility to the students themselves – and, hopefully, inculcates lasting healthy decision-making.
Healthy food options (especially for fresh products with a limited ‘shelf life’) tend to be more expensive than less healthy options with mass-produced or processed ingredients, and this applies to outsourced school lunches as well as to home-sourced or school-sourced meals.
However, other cost considerations need to be taken into account, and these may vary widely between schools and between students’ families/whanau.
For schools, the cost benefits of outsourced school lunches will depend on existing facilities – for example, whether the school already has a dedicated tuckshop or canteen, and whether or not lunches are prepared in-school. Outsourced school lunches that can ‘piggyback’ on existing facilities – e.g., can be distributed via a tuckshop or canteen – will be less costly than implementing new systems.
For parents, outsourced school lunches may cost more than like-for-like meals prepared at home. At the same time, outsourced lunches can provide a greater range of food options, especially when it comes to fresh ingredients and variety.
Even with the best will in the world, busy parents may not have time to provide the best lunch option for their children every day of the week. And it is in terms of convenience that outsourced school lunches have a clear advantage, with the time-costs of food purchase and preparation borne by the supplier rather than the parents/caregivers.
Increasingly, online pre-ordering of lunches adds to the convenience value of outsourced lunches, as well as enabling parents/caregivers to monitor the types of food their children are offered. Some companies even offer pre-ordering by SMS text messaging.
For schools, the use of online or SMS pre-ordering and payment by parents/caregivers removes the logistical issue of taking orders and cash-handling, freeing up administrative staff for other duties.