Recommendations for good food in school canteens

In the school stage is when the majority of eating habits, hygiene and healthy lifestyle are established. These habits should be promoted in the first instance in the family environment, but it must be taken into account that the number of children who eat lunch in the school canteen is increasing. Both schools and institutes play a very important role in the student’s nutritional education and that is why in this article I will give recommendations for a good diet in the school canteens. 

Basic functions of the school canteen

Lunch can be considered one of the most important meals of the day in terms of quantities and variety of foods. It supposes between 30-35% of the daily energy needs. The school canteen must be able to guarantee the quality of the food, from the nutritional and sensory point of view, always following the criteria of hygiene and food safety, which will guarantee food safety.

It is essential that the weekly menu takes into account the cultural preferences and / or possible pathologies (gastroenteritis, intolerances, allergies, diabetes, etc.). In order to prevent the child from feeling different from the group, favor interaction and social relationship at lunchtime, from a type or general menu, a menu is adapted according to the different situations or needs that may be present. In this way, the menu does not vary much from one child to another.

Structure of a general lunch menu and example of a type menu:

First course: farinaceous and / or legumes and / or vegetables. Sauteed macaroni and vegetables
Second course: protein foods (meat, fish, eggs or legumes) Baked hake with tomato
Garnish: vegetables and / or farinaceous.
Dessert: seasonal fruit. Pear
Wholemeal bread and waterExtra virgin olive oil for cooking and dressing

* Table adapted from: L’alimentació healthy in the school stage , 2017.

To ensure an adequate variety, you have to try to comply with the recommended consumption frequencies. This way we will achieve that at the end of the week the students have tried and eaten a great variety of different foods.

First courses

  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Vegetables
  • Vegetables and greens
Weekly portions1
1
1-2
1-2
Second courses

  • meats
    • White meats
    • Red and processed meats
  • Fish (white and blue)
  • Eggs
  • Vegetable proteins (legumes and derivatives)
1-3
1-3
0-1

1-3
1-2
0-5

Fittings

  • Varied salads
  • Other side dishes (potatoes, legumrbes, pasta, rice, vegetables, etc)
3-4
1-2
Dessert

  • Season’s fruit
  • Others (Natural yogurt, fresh cheese , curd, etc)
4-5
0-1
Culinary techniques

  • Pre-cooked
  • Fried (main course)
  • Fried (side dishes)
≤ 3 per month
≤ 2 per week
≤ 1 per week

* Table from: L’alimentació healthy in the school stage , 2017

Attitude of dining room monitors and teachers

Children have an innate mechanism of self-regulation that helps them manage their appetite and thus know when they are hungry and when they are satiated. For this reason , no child should be forced to finish the dish, either at home or in school canteens by dining room monitors . The fact of forcing the child to finish the dishes can lead to greater resistance, create rejection of certain foods or even aversion at the time of the meal, and other unhealthy behaviors in adulthood. The feeling of hunger and variability in the intake of a child can be influenced by what he has eaten in the previous hours and the time that has elapsed since his last intake. 

In the same vein, it has not been shown that insisting, forcing or coercing the child to try a food that he does not want, but that we consider that one has to eat because it is “healthy”, serves to improve the acceptance of the food in question. What is recommended to do is expose the child repeatedly to food. In doing so, it is important to change the ways of presenting the food to the child . For example: pureed, sauteed, small pieces, large pieces, raw, cooked, fried, etc. As the child becomes familiar with him, he will gradually accept him more and more and in all his forms of presentation.

Good hygiene and food safety practices in school canteens

Both kitchen staff and monitors need to be aware that food safety is in their hands. Both should help the development and facilitate the acquisition of hygienic and eating habits, as well as to promote correct behavior standards, the use of dining room material, promote social and coexistence aspects.

Children are considered a risk group from the point of view of food safety, since they do not have the immune system fully developed. This makes them more vulnerable to certain pathogens. Therefore, precautions must be taken from the moment food arrives at the center until it is cooked and served to children.

Storage and receipt of food in school canteens

At the reception of the product the person in charge of the reception must verify that all the products have arrived in optimal conditions. That means looking at the temperatures of the vehicle that has been used, the cleaning of the vehicle, the technical data sheets and checking the goods for possible bumps, cracks, etc. In the event of any anomaly, the product must not be accepted and the supplier will be notified of the incident.

Once the product is suitable, it must be stored and stored correctly depending on its characteristics. For example, depending on the type of food we will store it dry, refrigerated or frozen. It is essential that there are and correct protocols for cleaning and control of pests both in reception and storage.

Preparation of food in school canteens

All people in contact with food, both inside the kitchen and outside, have to maintain optimal personal hygiene, clean work clothes and wear head protection and appropriate footwear. As well as having training for food handling and specific training for those pathologies, allergies or intolerances that are necessary.

Once the different foods enter the kitchen the cook and helpers will be organized according to the menu of the day. They will prepare the special menus first for either allergies, intolerances or cultural beliefs, and then the rest of the menu. Always complying with the cleaning and storage protocols before, during and after, in order to avoid possible cross contamination. Once the food is prepared, it should be stored under the ideal conditions of temperature and hygiene until the time the students are served.

Nutrition education and prevention in school canteens

Keep in mind that children are a sponge and can quickly adopt good or bad habits. Therefore, throughout their school stage they should be receiving nutritional education and adopting a series of hygiene rules that will prevent possible infections:

  • Through repetitive and constant actions (activities, joint projects, nutritional education … etc.), the school must understand the need to have a good diet to avoid illnesses and have a good state of health.
  • Ensure that children do not put what has been on the floor in their mouths.
  • Establish routines of chained behaviors: before sitting at the table go to the bathroom, wash your hands, eat, then brush your teeth and again wash your hands.
  • Avoid taking food from your classmates’ plate, take special care in children with allergies or intolerances.

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