How school caterers can help reduce children’s sugar intake

Brookwood’s Sue Parfett talks to Amanda Ursell about how school caterers can help parents to reduce their children’s sugar intake

I recently read an article about Public Health England (PHE) highlighting that children are consuming half their sugar intake at breakfast. This month, I have recruited the skills of our Nutritionist, Amanda Ursell, to find out more.

Amanda, I was shocked by this report. Is this true and how much sugar are children eating on average? 

According to PHE, children are eating more than 11g of sugar on average at breakfast alone, that’s nearly three sugarcubes. Most of this is coming from foods like sugary cereals, jams, chocolate spread and fruit juices. To put this into perspective, a child aged four to six has a daily target of less than 19g (or five sugarcubes) and those seven to 11, less than 24g, (or six cubes). This means that children in the lower age bracket were getting more than half their maximum added sugars for the day. 

As educators, we are always looking for ways to help improve the overall health and nutritional content of our menus. Our Beat The Sugar Beet® campaign has reduced sugar by up to 10% without children seeming to notice. However, simply removing popular sugary cereals at our boarding schools could cause complaints. How should we approach this ‘sticky’ issue, without alienating pupils?

As you say, imposing swaps overnight without any collaboration or explanation is not likely to boost your popularity among many pupils! However, engaging them and involving them in the process may prove a more acceptable way of introducing change. One way to do this could be to survey pupils, asking them if they enjoy porridge or lower-sugar cereals like Weetabix or Oatibix. If you get a positive response from most or some students, you can then communicate this in the dining room. People generally, children and teenagers included, like to feel they are doing something that others enjoy doing as well and, as caterers, we can use this instinct in a positive way to help guide pupils towards healthy changes in their food choices. 

Why do you ‘count’ pure fruit juices as part of a child’s added sugar for the day?

It may feel a little draconian, but young people now get the message that water is the healthiest drink. The reason for this advice is that when children, and adults for that matter, drink 150ml of orange juice, the 12g of sugars are considered to become ‘free’ sugars and, in effect, ‘added’. When we eat whole oranges, because the sugars are locked inside the cells of the fruit, they don’t count as they are absorbed more slowly due to the fibre. The best advice is to ensure that juice isn’t always available and serving sizes are kept to 150ml.

How can parents help to support our efforts to reduce sugar at breakfast, other meals and snack times in school?  

Parents can support messages and embrace the philosophy you are trying to embed at school within home life. I’m a big fan of the brand new Change4Life ‘Be Food Smart’ app. By scanning the barcodes of foods, children can see the amount of saturated fat, salt and sugar it contains in a child-friendly way. In addition, they can learn about appropriate portion sizes, healthy snack ideas and tips on meal planning. It’s a great educational tool and I like it because this app can be used at home to create a real family based approach and supports the messaging children receive at school. After all, whilst eating healthily at school will help, it has to be a whole-life approach to make the difference. 

Sue Parfett is Managing Partner of independent schools’ caterer, The Brookwood Partnership. Amanda Ursell is Consultant Nutritionist for CH&Co Group, of which Brookwood is the group’s specialist education caterer.


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