Why some kids in England ate at school but not at home

Nov 12, 2010 by

Why some kids in England ate at school but not at home

An English mom, Donna Lovett of Norwich, recently started her “fussy” son, Connor, on school lunches, sure that he wouldn’t eat a thing. She was surprised to see that he loved the school food. He even got into fish and vegetables, she noted. It’s opened the way to serving foods at home she didn’t think were “possible” before.

recent report from The Food Trust in England has revealed that four out of five kids who ate school lunches there started trying new foods at school that they would never have eaten at home. Half of those children also asked their parents to make some of the dishes that they’d tried at school.

This study came out to encourage parents to have their kids eat at the school cafeteria, following an earlier study that revealed that many parents were packing unhealthy lunches for their children, “because they worry that they are too fussy to eat anything else.”  Lunches from home proved to have considerably more sugar, fat and salt in them than a school lunch. Not surprising if kids are dictating the menu.

Unfortunately, there’s a major difference between American school lunches and their English counterparts. In England, schools are required to meet (maybe they do) reasonably nutritious standards (maybe they are).  In any case, school lunches are apparently healthier than the lunches a lot of parents were sending in with their picky kids. “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver succeed in bringing better lunches to English schools, as he tried valiantly (and failed) to do here, so school lunches probably are considerably better than the average American school lunch.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe parents can do much worse than what American schools are feeding kids.

Since we in America don’t generally have reasonably nutritious school lunches to leverage in getting our fussy eaters to eat more healthful foods and broaden their minds about eating, what can we American parents do? Can we learn something from the success of the English?

Let’s start by looking at some possible explanations for why little Connor Lovett is willing to eat all kinds of food at school that he wouldn’t eat at home.

Why did Connor eat better at school than at home?

1.  When Connor found himself at lunch time at school without his narrow range of junky foods that he thought was all he liked, and since he was in school all morning and probably hadn’t eaten a thing since breakfast, he was hungry. Mom wasn’t there to provide any alternatives to the school food. Crying would get him nowhere, besides being embarrassing. He decided to eat what was available, and discovered that quite a bit of it tasted pretty good. Especially after having eaten that narrow range of junky stuff all the time for quite awhile at home.

2.  The group dynamic: the other kids were probably eating it, and seemed happy enough, without much discussion.

3. There were more interesting things to talk about at lunch at school with his friends than what he was or wasn’t eating, so he was distracted from his fussiness. His friends weren’t concerned about whether he liked the food or ate it or not or stayed hungry. It was his problem alone, and suddenly not a terribly interesting problem.

4.  Absence of the adult pressure and hovering that tends to extinguish their desire to eat. The teachers didn’t care either about what or whether he ate, or how many bites he took. Even if they did care, which is doubtful, they didn’t have enough time to scrutinize and hound all those kids at once. So he figured he might as well eat what he felt like eating, all on his own. There was no one to fight about it with, so what good would it do to be picky? All he’d get out of food refusal would be immediate hunger, and probably the bored looks, or worse, of his classmates.

So how can we recreate the conditions of an English school lunch, at home? How can we make home more like school in ways that will increase kids’ eating of good food?

Coming soon:
Six lessons from the English School Lunch

Related posts:

“Stealth health” or “psychological nudges”? Getting kids eating better

The Codependent Mom: feeding your child’s food addiction