Recommendations for a good diet in school canteens

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

Basic functions of the school cafeteria

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

It is essential that the weekly menu takes into account cultural preferences and / or possible pathologies (gastroenteritis, intolerances, allergies, diabetes, etc.). In order to prevent the boy or girl from feeling different from the group, to promote interaction and social relationship at lunchtime, based on a typical or general menu, a menu is adapted according to the different situations or needs that may arise. introduce. In this way it is achieved that the menu does not vary much from one child to another.

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

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

* Table adapted from: Healthy food in the school stage , 2017.

To guarantee a suitable variety, it is necessary to try to comply with the recommended consumption frequencies. This will ensure that at the end of the week the students have tried and eaten a wide variety of different foods.

First courses

  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Vegetables
  • Vegetables and greens
Weekly rations1
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

  • Assorted salads.
  • Other garnishes (potatoes, legumes, 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 (second course)
  • Fried (side dishes)
≤ 3 a month
≤ 2 a week
≤ 1 a week

* Table from: Healthy food in the school stage , 2017

Attitude of the dining room monitors and teachers

Children have an innate self-regulatory mechanism that helps them manage their appetite and thus know when they are hungry and when they are full. For this reason , no child should be forced to finish the plate, either at home or in school canteens by the canteen monitors . Forcing a child to finish dishes can lead to increased resistance, rejection of certain foods or even aversion to eating, 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. 

Along the same lines, 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 it has to be eaten because it is “healthy”, serves to improve the acceptance of the food in question. What is recommended to do is to expose the child repeatedly to food. In doing so, it is important to change the ways in which the food is presented to the child . For example: pureed, sautéed, small chunks, large chunks, raw, cooked, fried, etc. As the child becomes familiar with it, little by little he will accept it more and more and in all its 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 must help the development and facilitate the acquisition of hygienic and eating habits, as well as to promote correct norms of behavior, 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 a fully developed immune system. This makes them more vulnerable to certain pathogens. Therefore , extreme precautions must be taken from the moment the food arrives at the center until it is cooked and served to the children.

Storage and reception 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. This implies looking at the temperatures of the vehicle that has been used, its cleaning, the technical 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 preserved correctly according to its characteristics. For example, depending on the type of food we will store it dry, refrigerated or frozen. It is essential that correct cleaning and pest control protocols exist and are followed both at reception and storage.

Preparing food for school canteens

All people who come into contact with food, both inside the kitchen and outside, must maintain optimum 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 organize themselves according to the menu of the day. They will first prepare the special menus for 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 must be stored in the ideal conditions of temperature and hygiene until the moment it is served to the students.

Nutrition education and prevention in school canteens

Keep in mind that children are a sponge and can quickly adopt good or bad habits. For this reason, throughout their school stage they must receive nutritional education and adopt a series of hygiene rules that will avoid 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 diseases and have a good state of health.
  • Make sure 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 hands, eat, then brush teeth and wash hands again.
  • Avoid taking food from the plate of their companions, take special care in children with allergies or intolerances.

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