Aussie parents are backing the introduction of school provided meals and potentially willing to pay for ensuring national dietary requirements are being met with a range of quality options, according to preliminary results in a national survey.
The survey of parents with children aged 4-17 demonstrates their support for a national transformation of lunchbox meals relying on parents to make informed choices, says Flinders University Dietitian and PhD Candidate Alexandra Manson, who will present her findings at the Dietitians Australia Conference (14-16 August) in Adelaide.
The survey by Caring Futures Institute researchers aimed to explore current school food practices, and 71 parents took part. The results show 86% of parents were interested in introducing school provided meals, citing convenience, social and environment benefits, variability and food security as their primary reasons.
Researchers say school provided meals have been shown to improve attendance, classroom attention, cognition, academic performance, social skills, nutrition and health of children, while also providing a way to address food insecurity.
Parents perceive current spending on lunchboxes to be around $4 per day. Investment of $4 per day in a school provided meals system would deliver benefits for parents and children alike. Parents preferring to maintain home-made lunches said nutrition and food safety concerns were their key reasons.
Co-author Dr Brittany Johnson says the school food system increasingly relies on families and charities to provide food to children at the most important stages of educational and physical development.
“Families have described how challenging the provision of healthy, enjoyable and affordable lunchboxes can be, so we need to start thinking about how what we can do to better support families. It’s the right time to start a national conversation about embracing school provided meals.”
“Embracing school provided meals requires transformation of the existing Australian system, to create an equitable system which achieves benefits for children and families. Our preliminary data demonstrates an emerging parental interest in adopting such a system.”
“We need to ask- do we need school provided meals in Australia and what could this look like in an Australian context?”
This transformative question will be posed at the 2022 Dietitians Australia Conference in Adelaide (14-16 August), where an exciting scientific program is set to capture the conference themes of Be Bold: nuture, extend and emerge.
“What better way to live up to themes encouraging dietitians to ask bold questions and be bold in practice than to ask big national questions about the way school meals are delivered in Australia. We are collaborating nationally on a discussion paper to start the conversation on how food could be provided in Australian schools in the future, as we work towards hosting a national form on this topic in 2023,” says senior author Flinders University Professor Rebecca Golley, Deputy Director of the Caring Futures Institute.
“Flinders University’s research team and our collaborators aren’t afraid to ask big questions which could transform our thinking about the traditional lunch model to introduce a universal school-provided meal. Australia should consider this new program to ensure all children can reach their full potential by delivering nutritious, safe and environmentally sustainable food.”
Professor Golley says a separate Flinders University study being presented by Shabnam Kashef demonstrates the effective adaption of menu box delivery services in child care settings to increase vegetable consumption.