Fuelling the Future: How does secondary school food fare for our young people?

Fuelling the Future: How does secondary school food fare for our young people?

New research from Food Active has explored young people’s perceptions of secondary school food; and whilst many schools are taking steps to provide healthier choices, reduce queues and improve seating within the canteen, students want to see more improvements.   

The ‘Fuelling the Future’ report summarises views from 40 young people across Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Trafford and Wirral on the food and drink available at breaktime, the dining environment and experience, existing school food policies and the food and drink available to them beyond the school gates.

Interviews with headteachers, school cooks and parents also took place to further understand some of the issues explored with the young people.

The key findings from the report include:

  • Breaktime provision is a very popular food service, however healthier options are currently limited.
  • Cost of food and drink is an important factor for young people, some referenced price increases alongside a reduction in portion sizes.
  • Young people consistently raised issues about the chaotic and stressful nature of the dining space, and lengthy queues.
  • Lunchtimes are too short, and many young people report issues such as running out of food and making compromises on other activities such as clubs and sport in order to eat.
  • Young people frequently noted the poor quality and limited variety of foods being served across the school day and want to see this improved.
  • Young people were typically unfamiliar with schools offering healthy eating initiatives or aware of any policies relating to provision of healthier options.
  • Young people had lots of ideas on how to encourage healthier eating in school, including making healthier foods more appealing, changes to pricing, providing more information on healthy eating, introducing gardening clubs and restricting the promotion of less healthy options when paying.
  • Places to buy food on a pupil’s journey to school are generally dominated by less healthy options, and these are popular, attractive and convenient for young people when compared to the offer within schools.
  • Schools are taking steps to address many of the issues reported by pupils, including introducing rotas at lunchtime and converting other spaces such as the hall into seating areas, but challenges remain.

The report recognises that these findings must be considered within in the context of the significant number of challenges schools are currently facing.. Schools are under increasing pressure from the rising cost of food, insufficient uplifts to funding for school meals and other wider challenges such as operating at or over capacity and behavioural issues – yet government support has not increased.

As such, the report concludes with a range of recommendations for action to better support schools, in particular, the government to review and increase funding for school food and catering facilities and better monitoring of the school food standards.

A copy of the report can be viewed and downloaded below.

Food Active would like to express our sincere thanks to the schools who supported us in conducting this research, and specifically the young people who kindly shared their honest experiences and feedback on the topics explored. We would also like to thank the parents who took the time to share their thoughts to feed into this research report.

If you would like to speak to one of the team about the report, please email beth.bradshaw@foodactive.org.uk

The images featured in this report have been sourced from Impact on Urban Health Children’s Health and Food Image Bank. © 2023. Provided by Impact on Urban Health licensed via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.


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