We can inspire children to advocate for good food
New Lubbesthorpe Primary School is part of a brand-new development town in Leicestershire and has been working with the Soil Association’s Food for Life initiative since before it was built.
Headteacher Natalie Hackett is passionate about delivering good school meals but believes to truly embed good food, children themselves need to become healthy advocates. She explains:
Our school is part of a new housing estate, right from the start the development had a big focus on community. The family who owned the land wanted to bring families together and food, sustainability and nature was a core focus right from the beginning, including with the school.
It was built with food in mind, and with children in mind. We wanted an outdoor kitchen, so we had to think about making it practical for the children to use.
I feel very empowered to have been given all the right resources to be able to do some great things around food. It’s very unusual to have a set up like this.
It’s still a work in progress, but we are getting there. In the early days we just had some standard planting beds, but then we created an area for wildlife so we could see what animals we could attract.
We’ve planted apple trees – all with Leicestershire varieties of apples – and we’ve put in a compost system and a poly tunnel. It’s constantly evolving and now we’ve got a whole planting season, and the best thing is that the children are completely involved.
Reconnecting children to food also links in with their lessons. We’ve been working with the bee farmer to put in our own bee hives, so the children can learn about pollination for their science lessons. And then they get to harvest and eat the honey, which is really exciting for them.
Food gives children a real-life perspective on their lessons
It's not only about learning about these things in the classroom, but it’s also so important for children to go out and see it. That way we can inspire future generations to live it – to live in a way where they are connected to where food comes from.
We’re doing this with chickens. We hatched and raised four from being little chicks, and now they lay eggs for us every day. We have a farmer who visits and shares videos of life on the farm. But we don’t do everything on the school grounds. It’s not practical for us to house pigs here – and we don’t need to. We visit the farm, which is another learning activity for the children, too.
For me it’s not just about having animals and insects within our environment, we have looked at maximising and enhancing what learning and experiences are required to teach our curriculum.
We have also developed a culture and environment that deepen their skills and knowledge for lifelong learning.
So, we have healthy dinners as part of our Food for Live award, but we have children working alongside staff to do the cooking, too. They come up with ideas and discuss new things for the menus. This way children are having a say but equally the health and nutrition is coming through because they are working with professionals.
Science and Design Technology (DT) is strong at our school but bringing in the food culture puts a real-world perspective on things. It helps them to see what they are learning in a real-world context.
For example, we had some pupils making things and taking it to the summer fayre this year and we had an “around the world” theme. Our year sixes researched and made all different types of European bread, so they learned about other cultures, and then they sold it at the market, so they got business experience at the same time.
And we’re constantly planning new ways of bringing in things to make it interesting to bring food in. We had a potato growing competition which was great fun and engaged pupils to be involved in the whole process.
We did some lessons on food processing using videos from Food for Life – that was amazing. We got to see where it all started out with a video from a dairy farmer producing the milk, and then we saw how ice cream was created and we got to have a go ourselves and then we all got to eat it.
It was like going behind the scenes and the information on the different types of processing linked to science and DT too. It was brilliant and the children loved it.
Good food must be embedded across the whole school
There are so many things you can do – we are an enthusiastic school and the more you do the more you get inspired to do. It’s a whole package and it’s embedded across the whole school. Food is part of the children’s lessons, and it can’t fall out of the system.
So, if the person who leads the work with Food for Life leaves, they won’t take all the wonderful ideas and experiences with them. It’s important to me that whatever I put in place for healthy food is manageable and embedded into the curriculum.
We want the best for the children and if their learning is also helping them to be healthy then it’s a successful outcome.
And a key part of that is to have the children on board. It’s part of our core values that we want our children to be respectful communicators, but we also want them to be healthy advocates.
We want them to encourage each other to make those good choices.
When we look at our school dinner uptake, we can see that it’s all working as most of our younger children have cooked dinners. We monitor it very closely and if there’s a drop, we look at why, it’s usually quite easy to spot patterns.
To support children in enjoying food, we worked with them to make their lunches themselves. We had wraps with all different things they could put in them. Once they had ownership it totally changed their outlook.
It helps even more when they are involved in it in classrooms too. We had Warwick University come in with the Beans Meals project, where the children were learning the different types of beans and deciding how best they should be eaten depending on what they tasted like. They were measuring the waste and making the decisions alongside the experts. Again, they had control but with healthy options, and we find that really works.
That’s why I think it’s so important for the children themselves to be healthy advocates, so they can make good choices and inspire each other.
It’s good for the staff too – who have thoroughly enjoyed the projects which have enabled a growing team to work together showing their dedication and teamwork.
The whole school approach to good food is inspiring people to look at things differently and everybody helps each other. The benefits are endless and it’s not stopping any time soon!