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More FSMs to stop ‘diet disaster’

A government-commissioned review recommends 1.5 million more children are added to the Free School Meals scheme

This week, Boris Johnson has started his fight against fat and launched several schemes to improve the nutrition of the nation. A government-commissioned review has found that greater intervention is needed, recommending 1.5 million more children are added to the Free School Meals scheme to curb the “slow-motion disaster” of unhealthy eating. By Michael Delaney.

It all kicked off before summer

This isn’t the first time Free School Meals (FSM) have been thrust into the limelight this summer.

Back in June, Marcus Rashford campaigned to have the program extended into the summer holidays for the current 1.3 million children eligible for the scheme.

In a letter to the government, he drew on his personal experiences of living in poverty and the risk children were at of going hungry, especially as the economic impact of the pandemic would start to bite.

Rashford’s campaigning forced the govt into a U-turn, and the striker has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester for his “remarkable campaign against child poverty”.

More to be done

The review by the National Food Strategy describes a nutritious diet in childhood as the “foundation of equality of opportunity”.

The review details the long term impacts of poor nutrition on a child’s life, including academic performance. Paul Whiteman, leader of the Nation Association of Head Teachers, said there were already too many children who “arrive at school hungry and unable to learn“.

The review encourages action to be taken now, in lieu of the likely rise in unemployment from the pandemic forcing more families into poverty and putting more children at risk.

Hunger vs nutrition

As an immediate intervention, the review calls for more children to be eligible for a free meal at school, as “only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards of a school meal”.

It also calls out brands for their “wilfully misleading” packaging, hiding behind a “veneer of goodness”. For example, Innocent Smoothies label their products as having no added sugar, distracting from the 8 teaspoons of ‘natural’ sugar already contained in the product.

This is not just about ensuring children do not go hungry, but that the quality of the food they receive is actually nutritious in the first place.

Cost vs benefit

The extension of free school meals, at a cost of £670m per year, would expand eligibility to all children in households where the parent or guardian is claiming universal credit or equivalent benefits.

Such a move would aim to stop pupils being hungry at school and prevent the negative consequences on learning and behaviour, as well as the long term health of the child.

With the UK government looking to curb obesity in this country, it seems like only a sensible measure that the habit of healthy eating is introduced as early as possible.

4 top tips for eating healthy on a budget

1. Plan your meals and write a shopping list – stop yourself being tempted by the special offer on chocolates and stick to what’s good for you.
2. Avoid waste – you may want to buy in bulk (because it’s cheaper per meal) and then reuse the leftovers throughout the week. Here’s some help on how to safely store your food.
3. Eat more veg – it’s good for you anyway and it tends to be cheaper than meat and fish. You will also get cheaper veg if you buy seasonally – here’s a helpful calendar.
4. Shop smart – it’s worth checking the price of loose vs pre-packed foods. Also, don’t be fooled by the special price tags – just because it’s on offer, doesn’t make it an offer.