Many school communities are already aware of the important links between food, health and learning and are taking steps to improve their food and nutrition environments. Making healthy foods and drinks readily available within the school environment will encourage students to make healthy choices and will significantly contribute to improved nutrition in children and young people. Consuming healthy foods and drinks every day not only improves students’ overall health but can also improve their learning and behaviour.
Role of school canteen or school food service
The school canteen plays an important role. It enables children and young people to act on the healthy eating messages learned in the classroom by selecting from food and drink choices that are healthy, look and taste good, and are affordable – a great way to encourage healthy eating habits. The canteen is one of the best places to role model healthy eating habits.
Why do we need a system to classify foods and drinks?
The 2002 National Children’s Nutrition Survey of school children 5–14 years old (Ministry of Health 2003) highlighted the importance of the school environment. The survey found that 32 percent of daily energy intake was consumed by the children during school hours. Approximately half of the schoolchildren surveyed bought some of the food they consumed from the school canteen or tuck shop, with 5 percent of children buying most of their food there.
Only 60 percent of the schoolchildren surveyed ate the recommended three or more servings of vegetables, and 40 percent ate the recommended two or more servings of fruit each day. Good nutrition and healthy eating practices in childhood are important in shaping lifelong behaviours as well as affecting overall health and wellbeing.
Food and nutrition guidelines
The Food and Beverage Classification System is based on the Ministry of Health’s background papers Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children Aged 2–12 Years (1997) and Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Adolescents (1998). A range of food and nutrition pamphlets is available to order or download from www.healthed.govt.nz including the Ministry of Health brochures Eating for Healthy Children Aged 2 to 12 (revised 2005; reference code 1302) and Eating for Healthy Teenagers (revised 2006;reference code 1230).
Eating for healthy children and young people
- Eat a variety of foods from the four food groups each day.
- Eat enough for growth and physical activity.
- Choose foods low in fat, sugar and salt.
- Choose snacks well.
- Drink plenty every day.
- Avoid alcohol.