School food research ignites sit-down lunch pilot

An innovative school lunch program serving fresh and tasty meals is being piloted by Annesley Junior School, in collaboration with renowned Adelaide eatery Africola Canteen and researchers at Flinders University.

Working with one of Adelaide’s top chefs, the school lunch will role model to students healthy food choices and that stopping to eat together can be a valuable part of the school day.

With almost half of the food consumed by Australian children at school coming from unhealthy foods, the one-off event will showcase how South Australian schools can partner with local eateries to support families and deliver benefits for children’s learning, wellbeing and enjoyment of food.

If successful, the pilot could become part of the school day at Annesley in 2023. Experts say that if taken up in South Australia, school meals could provide benefits including creating jobs, addressing food insecurity, reducing food packaging and waste, while supporting student wellbeing, attendance and school performance.

Launching the Budding Lunch Program with students in reception to year 5 today, Africola Canteen owner and chef Duncan Welgemoed is introducing the food served at his restaurants into the school yard.

Example of food on the menu in the Budding Lunch Program in partnership with Africola Canteen in Adelaide.

The menu incorporates a selection of tasty and healthy dishes including: Zucchini slice, organic beef meatloaf, classic chicken or roasted broccoli salads, fruits and a healthy dessert option.

Annesley Junior School Principal Jo Rossiter says the Budding Lunch Program caters for food allergies and student tastes as we aim to increase health and learning outcomes by providing nourishing food and the opportunity for students to experience a variety of food with their friends.

“Eating together also builds stronger social skills by incorporating a sit-down meal and reduces litter in our schoolyard”.

“Interestingly, we’ve also learnt from our collaboration with Flinders that parents don’t expect universal, school-provided lunches to be free, with parents indicating a willingness to contribute to quality and delicious options.”

Chef Duncan Welgemoed says the budding lunch program is an exciting opportunity to showcase the wonderful producers of our state as well as the ritual of dining to children.

“Creating this platform enables us to provide a nutritious and delcious meal to school children while also developing their palate and knowledge around its ingredients.”

2020 Australian of the Year Dr James Mueke says “This is a really exciting initiative. Its encouraging kids to eat real food and to avoid sugary drinks and ultra-processed substances that are high in sugar, refined carbs and seed oils. Steering kids towards a real food diet is great for their health and for the environment, now and into the future.”

Professor Rebecca Golley, deputy director of the Caring Futures Institute at Flinders University.

Flinders University researchers say the current system is failing to support children’s growth, health and development.

“At Flinders, we have been ‘thinking outside the lunchbox’ to capture the interest, ideas and concerns of the many players that are involved in the Australian school food system,” says Flinders University Professor Rebecca Golley, Deputy Director of the Caring Futures Institute.

“We are currently working with primary school students, including at Annesley Junior School, to understand what their meals could look like in Australia and to find out what is important to them. Swapping from a predominately ‘lunchbox’ model to a school provided meals system will take some work, and there are several things we need to consider.

“We need to look at how a school meals system could function to meet the needs of Australian families. We believe there is a feasible way forward if departments such as education, health, human services and primary work together. There are also opportunities for the South Australian economy as the staff training, food preparation and dining infrastructure logistics are explored.”

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