School Food Is An Excellent Way To Affect Children’s Nutrition Habits

By Matleena Autio

As school starts again here in Finland, also starts the conversation about school food – tasty or not and why. What is more, in school kitchens you can often hear deliberation about shared recipes. Why recipes should be shared and used jointly in the company? Why professional cooks can´t prepare food just relying on their own taste? So, this is about the matter of taste, after all.

When food is prepared and eaten by countless numbers of people, we can´t and shouldn´t rely on one customer’s or cook’s “taste of the day”. For example, the National School Lunch Program requires that school food meets certain nutritional criteria, and it also should be suitable for as many as possible. As I worked in the school kitchen, I noticed that surprisingly often the dishes that were yummies for some, were pet peeves for others. So, I wonder if the dishes we regard a bit dull are also those that only a few people leave uneaten, although they are not anyone´s favorites.

Let´s take care of our hearts and of our customers hearts

Amount of sodium and saturated fat are criteria for the Heart-Check mark of the American Heart Association, and that is for a good reason. Most of us like food that is a bit salty and made with real butter. However, it is well known, that sodium and saturated fat are injurious for heart health and the amount of those should be kept to a minimum in ordinary dining.

Sense of taste gets used to varying amounts of sodium surprisingly fast and tasting minor changes in the amount of salt in food is not easy even for the experienced cook. Every one of us have our own taste preferences and too salty for one may be bland for someone else. The same with sugar. Standardized recipes help to ensure that the served food meets the required nutritional criteria and tastes the same despite the cook of the shift. Salt and sugar are also easy to increase on the plate when more flavor is needed for some reason.

Childhood habits often remain to adulthood

To affect on children´s nutrition habits is crucially important, for according to studies nutrition habits adopted in childhood often remain until adulthood. School food is an excellent way to affect children´s nutrition habits, as school feeding catches up almost every child and youngster. What is more, many of us still remember the yummies and pet peeves of our school years. So, it is not insignificant what dishes we serve on the school lunch and how do we do that.

As a parent, I appreciate Finnish school food meeting nutrition recommendations. I don´t have to feel guilty about feasting with kids on holidays or weekends, as I know that ordinary dining is on a healthy base. Ordinary food doesn´t have to be gourmet, or every day a holiday. When the basis of the ordinary dining is in order, feasting on holidays is not a problem but just part of the balanced diet.

JAMIX helps you to follow the nutritional recommendations

Nutrition recommendations are designed for professionals to help individuals consume a healthy and nutritionally adequate diet. The function of nutrition recommendations is to inform the development of food and nutrition policies and programs at the public level. There are daily nutritional goals for macro nutrients and minerals, as well as guidelines for how to support healthy eating patterns in different demographic groups. Nutrition recommendations are not meant to be actualized on an everyday basis, but on a week or a menu level. Nutritional goals for different age-sex groups – for example from The Dietary Guidelines for Americans – can be integrated in the JAMIX Kitchen Intelligence System and it is easy to compare the nutrient supply of the menus to those recommendations.

In Finland, we are proud of our safe and nutritious school food, a program that is one of the first ones in the world, and we want to lead it also into the future. In the beginning of the new school year, kitchens surely test new recipes but there are those old favorites on the menus too. JAMIX Kitchen Intelligence System is here to assist cooks to ensure that both new and old recipes meet the nutritional goals.  Let´s taste new flavors daringly and appreciate the traditional dishes of our cuisines, as well.

More information on Dietary Guidelines in the U.S.:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015.