Sunday, 10 March, 2013 - 00:00

Society's expectations about how schools can educate students about
health and diet are influencing what is eaten in and out of school

There's an old cliché suggesting that the way to get into a bloke's good books is "through his stomach".

Clearly the words are of a time long past – men of today are expected
to feed themselves, and today's women are far too busy and concerned
about their own nutritional intake to worry about that of their male

But when it comes to school-aged child-ren and teenagers, the words
have some relevance – and not just for the boys among them. "Feeding the
troops" is of major importance on school camps; if the students aren't
fed to their satisfaction, it's unlikely they'll find much enjoyment in
anything else.

However, what students are fed must go beyond the simple concept of
quantity. As the health and well-being of children becomes of increasing
significance – in general terms as well as because of the impact of
child obesity in the Australian population - emphasis is being placed on
the need for children to absorb a well-balanced diet so they may grow
physically and mentally.

Increasingly, schools are becoming a focus of programs that not only
place before children options for healthy eating, but also – by making
those options appealing – influence the eating choices of children and
teenagers in their lives outside school.

And while the school camp or other excursion may form only a small
proportion of the total hours in which a child is at school, it does
have importance in demonstrating to a student the food that can and
should be eaten for maximum performance.

It is also important because the camp menu supplies all nutritional
requirements for the period the child is away from home, and not an
occasional lunch or recess meal. The camp menu provides all meals and
all snacks for the duration of the time away from his or her home
refrigerator and kitchen cupboards, and so must provide a balanced
nutritional input across the day, each day, in forms that will be
accepted by the range of students on the camp.

That range of students makes planning the menu a lot more difficult
now than it may have done a generation or two ago. Today's student
population includes children with a wide diversity in eating preferences
or needs, due to cultural and religious factors, choices such as
vegetarian-ism and veganism, and the increased in-cidence of health
factors such as allergies, coeliac disease and lactose intolerance. But
while the exact nature of the menus and food quantities will depend on
the age group of the students – whether they are children in years three
or four and perhaps away from home for the first time, or young adults –
schools will not be satis-fied with a promise of pizzas, hot dogs and
vegemite sandwiches.

Many camps now provide catering, pro-moting the fact they have
skilled staff qualified in diet and nutrition alongside their claims of
accredited expertise in phy-sical and outdoor education, and schools
expect they will offer a menu that covers the school's needs and is
appropriate to today's standards of health and nutrition. Most camps now
supply menus, so that an individual school or other organisation can
specify and discuss overall dietary preferences along with those
cultural and health requirements that must be addressed for individual
members of the school party.

Maxine Panegyres, project manager for the Healthy Foods in School and
Preschools program in South Australia, points out that indications are
that one in five Australian children now are overweight or obese.

"Schools have many occasions that involve food, from camps and
excursions to the canteen to one-off parties and fetes," Ms Panegyres
says. "Schools may not be the problem, but they can be part of the

"Federal and State governments recognise that schools and education
have a part to play in tackling the incidence of over-weight and obesity
in our society."

As an example she points to South Australia's Strategic Plan – the
State govern-ment's "mission statement" – which includes a target
demanding an increase in the proportion of healthy people in the State
by 2014.

"The students of today are tomorrow's adults and parents, and so can
lead the way in changing attitudes and behaviour, and creating a
healthier society. In South Australia, our 'Healthy Eating Guidelines'
set out six ways in which the school environment can support healthy
eating in our kids – it's all very well to have canteens providing
healthy food, but that's only one school setting that includes food."

The school camp is another important setting; while the camps occur
infrequently,during a camp all food – and therefore all nutrition –
comes from the food organised for and provided by the camp or caterers.

"Schools have the responsibility to address this issue," says Ms Panegyres, who is also
a school principal. "Schools can – and today usually do – negotiate menus."

She points to the new "Right Bite Healthy Food and Drink Supply
Strategy", based on the NSW Food Spectrum model of "green, amber and
red" foods. It categories foods according to how healthy they are and
how often they should be included in a healthy diet, and is forming the
basis of guidelines for food and eating in SA schools – including on
camp. "We certainly don't want kids on camps to be fed only the foods in
the red spectrum, and encourage schools to move to more foods within
the green spectrum," Ms Panegyres says. "We don't want anyone to be
hungry, but if they move toward more green and some amber, but no red,
that would be great."

Camps not based in a specialist facility – such as treks or other
outdoor ventures – and so don't have food provided generally involve
older students who could be asked to help plan their menus. Older
students can also be given pre-camp projects that fit into the
"in-class" curriculum that ask them to investigate and plan menus that
meet particular guidelines relating to nut-ritional intake.

Ms Panegyres says many parties – schools, parents, camp operators,
sports organisers and governments – can play a part in guiding children
towards healthy eating habits, and so influence their long-term health
and well-being.

The students of today are tomorrow's adults and parents, and so can
lead the way in changing attitudes and behaviour, and creating a
healthier society.