A quick look through statistics will tell you that the UK’s population is getting bigger. Shockingly, one-third of primary school children are now classified as overweight or obese. There are a number of reasons for this. One big factor is a steep rise in sedentary lifestyle choices, with many children preferring to stay indoors rather than play outside. Another reason is a barrage of junk food advertising that specifically targets impressionable young people on television and online. Compare that with a meagre 1.2% of advertising that promotes healthy whole foods and you quickly can see why the nation’s health has been in dramatic decline over the past two decades.
Perhaps most significantly of all, however, is a clear lack of fresh vegetables within young people’s diets. It’s common knowledge that parents have long struggled to get their children to eat more, with many having to employ incentives to increase the rate of consumption. Despite numerous campaigns over the years, polls show a staggering 80% of children still do not get enough into their diet and, most worrying of all, parents are now giving up trying to achieve the recommended five-a-day due to time constraints and other life pressures.
These statistics forced Veg Power into action, a not-for-profit marketing fund that aims to improve young people’s diets and reverse the rates of obesity among UK primary school children. Since the initial advertisement backed by Sir John Hegarty and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the campaign has grown to see supermarkets, politicians, chefs, celebrities, community groups and vegetable growers joining the fight. As a caterer that works within the education sector, we have also signed up to the campaign, trialling dishes across the majority of schools in our education portfolio.
In line with the wider campaign, we looked to boost consumption among pupils at our primary school sites by introducing new dishes that highlight the broad range of flavours and high nutritional content found in fresh vegetables. New servings have included carrot and cumin bread, sweetcorn salad, green pea guacamole, charred broccoli, soy and ginger and roasted butternut squash. These were introduced alongside school favourites to increase the likelihood of success and encourage children to try something they otherwise might not have. Pupils were also challenged to collect stickers that keep track of the different types of vegetables on offer, with the winning year group being treated to a delicious, vegetable-based Veg Power cake as a reward.
Reflecting on the campaign, our Managing Director Rebecca Bridgement added: “As a caterer, we understand the importance of getting that 5-a-day and our dedicated Nutritionist ensures all of our menus contribute towards this. At the beginning of the year, we decided to revamp our daily salad bar by creating 60 new, exciting items. Every day each of our on-site Chef Managers chooses a minimum of 11 salad bar items to offer made up of one bread, five single salad items, two slaws or mixed salads, one carbohydrate salad, one dip and one dressing. This ensures that our salad bar remains new and exciting to the children day in, day out. We have also added colourful salad labels and incorporated our fun Herby character and his friends which refer to an ingredient found within each dish.”
The initial 10-week roll-out has been well received by pupils and parents, as well as our staff. It has enabled all children, and not just those who opt for school meals, to try a variety of different foods that are both delicious and healthy. Veg Power has also provided inspiration for our chefs, helping them to diversify the school menus and contribute towards a national campaign that looks to reverse ill health and malnutrition among young people. Following on from this success, we will now develop the campaign throughout the school term to sustain momentum and maintain interest among pupils.