The Naked Chef's Food For Thought

by DavalosMcCormack on March 30, 2010

Growing up in England school lunches were one of the low points of the day. The mashed potatoes were lumpy and cold; the meat greasy and often unidentifiable;  the vegetables boiled to within an inch of their life; and don’t even get me started on the desserts – anything with a name like Spotted Dick is to be avoided at all costs.school-dinners-002

So when I saw an article touting not just the taste benefits of a new school lunch program in England, but also claiming it helped improve pupil’s test scores I had to take a second look.

The study was done by the Royal Economic Society and it showed that youngsters who were given healthy school meals did better in tests than a similar group of 11 year olds who ate the more traditional rubbish.

1oliverThese were not just any ordinary school meals by the way. They were introduced by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver as part of his “Feed Me Better” campaign. Oliver – who became famous as the “Naked Chef” because of his love of simple, unadorned dishes –  worked hard to replace the usual heavily processed, high fat meals with food that was much more nutritious with an emphasis on items like fish and broccoli.

A number of schools introduced those meals in 2004. This study is the first to take a look at the impact of the better diet on children’s test results.

The Proof Is In The Pudding

The researchers found that schools that served the healthier meals showed a 3 to 6 percentage point improvement in the number of students who reached the required level in English tests, and a 3 to 8 percentage point improvement in children attaining a higher level science pass.

Even more impressive was the number of children who were marked down as having an unauthorized absence from school. That number fell 15 percent compared to the schools that served the usual muck.

It makes sense. If you like the food you are being served at school, and you are doing better in the classroom you are more likely to want to go every day, or at least less likely to “bunk off” as we used to call it.

A Taste Of Success

Now, you might think that 3 to 6 points isn’t that big a deal, but it is as big an improvement in test scores as was produced by adding a special “literacy hour” in the late 1990s to help students with their reading.

There have been many studies over the years showing that good nutrition is an essential part of building a healthy brain. You can’t hope to be able to feed your brain information if you are feeding your body junk. That’s why studies like this are so important, they highlight the impact that a change in diet can have on a child’s performance in the classroom, and that in turn can hugely influence what they do in life. Good exam results, even at age 11, lay the groundwork for everything that happens from that point on.

The better food may be doing more than just boosting children’s ability to pay attention in the classroom. There is anecdotal evidence from some of the schools that children with asthma used their inhalers less often after they started on the more nutritious diet.

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Either way, anything has to be better than spam fritters. Ugh. Just thinking about it sends my brain into a coma.

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