Research found that almost two-thirds of an average UK school lunch comprises ultra-processed food. Public health experts have called for an urgent limit to be placed on the consumption of these foods at schools.
A study found that ultra-processed food made up 64% of the calories provided by lunchtime meals in primary and secondary schools, with packed lunches often containing more of these foods than school meals.
It is common for ultra-processed foods, including fast food and fizzy drinks, to be cheap and marketed as healthy options. However, they often contain high levels of salt, fat, and sugar, (which we call “the Trifecta of Evil”) as well as additives linked to poor health, such as obesity, type2 diabetes, and cancer.
You can learn more about our views on how the “Trifecta of Evil” should be taxed like cigarettes in our recent podcast with world-renowned doctor Robert Lustig.
As children moved from primary to secondary school, they ate more ultra-processed food, with ultra-processed calories increasing from 61% to a shocking 77%. This is partly because secondary schools serve more fast food and puddings.
Have school meals improved over the years? To simply put it, NO!
As a result of Brexit and the war in Ukraine etc., school food costs have increased, but government support hasn’t increased. Earlier this month, school caterers warned that rising food costs could force them to abandon contracts or further reduce the quality of the meals served to our kids.
We believe ultra-processed foods should be regulated, especially in schools, in order to protect children’s health. For schools to buy healthier food at a lower price, additional funding and support will be required from the government. Yes this will cost a little more upfront, but those modest upfront costs will be dwarfed by savings in NHS costs further down the road. Sadly, when given a choice, children generally don’t choose the healthiest school meals. Education will be key here. Maybe more of us should watch Jamie Oliver’s TED talk
Most school meals don’t meet health guidelines, but due to the rising prices forcing schools to serve ever poorer-quality meals, more parents are switching to packed lunches, which could be a worse solution still unless parents take control and choose healthier alternatives for kids’ lunch boxes.
Even though packed lunches were found to contain more ultra-processed foods than school meals, we want to emphasise that parents should not be blamed for this. So, who is to blame?
We point the finger of accusation squarely at Big Food who put their corporate profits first, by brainwashing parents into believing that ultra-processed foods are a healthy. In order to avoid ultra-processed foods, parents should examine the ingredients list. When there are a lot of ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, it’s ultra-processed. We suggest substituting water for fizzy drinks, fruit juices, and yoghurt drinks.
Providing children with a real food diet is critical to their physical and mental health. There is no doubt that all children will benefit from lowering their sugar and carbohydrate intake, simply by eating fewer processed and junk foods.
It is critically important that children receive all the nutrients they need, but they absolutely don’t need the sugars and carbohydrates of today’s typical diet.
It is absolutely possible to reduce children’s risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, and developing other metabolic diseases in later life by reducing processed and high-carb foods in their diets.
As a result, their overall nutrition will improve as well as their concentration, mood, and energy levels. Education should encourage them to choose natural “real” food over processed food in the future.
The food we feed our children has a direct impact on their growing bodies as well as their future health. By cooking lower-carb food for your children you will positively impact their well-being and support healthy growth.
The onset of chronic diseases is not something that happens overnight. It takes decades, triggered by consistent exposure to the trifecta of evil (high sugar, high carbs, and highly processed foods). We can, we MUST do better for our kids!