Technologically speaking

Amanda Ursell, CH&CO Independent’s consultant nutritionist, looks at some of the tech-based developments that may one day be part and parcel of every school dining experience

In our series on multisensory eating, we have discovered how getting the look, feel and sound ‘right’ in your school dining space can play a vital role in modulating mood and influencing meal choices. Experts are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to build on current knowledge and shape selection and eating experiences further still.

Carbon footprints

Technology allows us to measure the carbon emissions (CO2e), produced during almost all everyday activities from travel to sending emails. The carbon emissions created to get our food from farm to fork can also now be calculated and with food chains, including the Mexican eatery Wahaca and high street favourites like Leon, making the CO2e ‘carbon footprint’ of their dishes available to customers, it seems inevitable that environmentally aware pupils could soon be pushing for school dining halls to follow suit.

Such measurements could be communicated on web-based and physical menus as well as at point of sale through, for example, traditional labels, free standing QR codes, or even edible QR codes attached to dishes, themselves. These CO2e numbers, once contextualised, can be powerful forces for change and such context is provided by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The WWF estimates our average daily carbon footprint in the UK is 35.6kgCO2e with our diet responsible for 5.17kg of this total. This they say, needs to shrink to 4.09kg by 2030. Divided equally between three meals, this allows for around 1.4kgCO2e per meal, or 1.2kgCO2 per meal if you want to leave 0.5kg for snacks.

With such figures in mind, faced with the choice of burger with chips which clocks up 3.4kgCO2e (about the same as those produced on a seven-mile drive in an average UK petrol-fuelled car), pupils may well use this information, were it available, to opt instead for a baked potato with baked beans and cucumber salad, responsible for generating 0.6kgCO2e. Making such a switch would also, unwittingly, lead to a reduction in saturated fat and salt, whilst boosting fibre and ticking off two of the ‘5 a Day’ goal for vegetables and fruits.

It is easy to imagine how pupils themselves could become the ones driving dining menus towards more sustainable choices and then taking the rest of the pupil body with them.

Multisensory Innovations

If CO2e labelling is at the more simplistic and cost-effective end of multisensory innovations to help ‘health-up’ food offerings, scientists are exploring other, more high-tech methods, they would like to think may be adjuncts to such endeavours in the future.

Salt-reducing chopsticks

Might we, for example, see the introduction of electronic cutlery to help us lower salt intake? Researchers at Meiji University in Japan believe it is a possibility having developed chopsticks that, linked to a minicomputer worn on the diner’s wrist, transmit sodium ions from the food to the mouth to stimulate the sense of saltiness, allowing less salt to be used in the dish itself.

Jiggling fork to slow down eating

For stressed pupils who bolt their food on the other hand, a HAPIfork might be beneficial. With embedded technology, the fork gently jiggles when the diner is eating too fast, reminding them to slow down and by doing, help to reduce the risk of indigestion.

AR specs

Tokyo University scientists meanwhile have shown how Augmented Reality software set in glasses can be employed to help people to eat less. This could benefit pupils and teachers who want a sweet treat but would like to have control the portion size. Researchers revealed how when AR magnified food to look 1.5 times its real size, people ate 10 per cent less of it and as lead researcher Takuri Narumi explains: “This happens without feeling hard done by.”

Of course, while such technologies make intriguing reading, what this series has tried to highlight is that here and now, school caterers can do so much more than simply ‘cook’. By working together, the school and caterer can tweak many multisensory aspects of the dining experience for the emotional and nutritional benefit of both pupils and staff alike.

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