How unhealthy are school meals

School lunches in Germany are so unhealthy

“What was there today at school?” Mother Claudia is curious to see what her offspring was served today. “Chicken nuggets with fries” is the answer. Claudia is slowly getting angry because she pays a lot of money every month so that her child can eat at school. One automatically assumes that the food is nutritious. Thought wrong, because research unfortunately allows a different conclusion.

Is school lunch in Germany unhealthy?

Scientists from the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences conducted a nationwide survey of 200 school canteens over a period of five years. The result from 2012: Often the students only receive a poor meal. Over 90 percent of Germany's schools do not meet the quality standards of healthy food. In general, the meals are lacking in balance, because at least once a week there should be a fish dish, vegetables and salad every day and whole grains on a regular basis, the meat should be low in fat and not breaded.

Many requirements that most schools do not seem to meet. Some parents can tell you a thing or two about it. In Claudia's son's school, there is also a vegetable soup from time to time, but only light-colored bread rolls with no nutritional value. And that's just one of many examples. However, a balanced diet is absolutely necessary for the children in order to be able to cope with everyday school life with all its challenges. After all, it consumes a lot of energy that has to be fed back into the body.

Quality control center for school meals reveals grievances

In order to check the quality of school meals in Berlin, there is a state-financed quality control center for school meals. They get a comprehensive picture by visiting the large kitchens of school caterers and the schools they supply themselves. Without any prior notice, as this is how authentic situations can be assessed. In addition to the quality of the food, it can be checked on site in the schools whether the serving temperature of the food is correct, the portions are sufficient and the information in the menu plan is correct.

Not enough vegetables, not enough calcium, not enough whole grains

The importance of a good composition of food is emphasized by the quality control office for school meals and the “Study on the quality of school lunches in the state of Berlin”, which various food companies examined. Heart disease, osteoporosis or certain forms of diabetes - these diseases can be counteracted at a young age with the help of a healthy diet.

The study complained, among other things, of the proportion of whole grain products, because none of the four companies examined had met the minimum requirements. One provider even completely refrained from using whole grains. Food researchers see this as problematic, because as little as 45 g of whole grain products per day can help reduce the risk of coronary disease or diabetes. When it comes to food choices, it is also made too easy for children to forego vegetables entirely. According to the study, calcium was also neglected by the caterers in the main courses. However, some companies tried to make up for dessert in the form of yogurt or quark.

All four caterers examined processed too much salt and too little iron. In addition, the vegetarian dishes were nutritionally inferior. The final report also states that the specifications regarding the temperatures during serving were not met on any day. Schools are not infrequently the problem, as they have absolutely no means of storing food such as fresh fruit, vegetables, raw vegetables and desserts in a cool place. As a result, the vitamin C evaporates and the kids get less healthy food. Last but not least, deficits in the cooling can lead to a significant increase in the germ load, especially when it comes to dishes with fish, meat and dairy products.

The initiative of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Federal Ministry of Health "School Lunch - Grade One" is intended to improve the quality of lunch in the future. In the meantime, 90% of schools in Berlin are already participating in the project that implements the quality standards of the German Nutrition Society and should enable children to have a complete diet.

Healthy snacks for school during breaks

Nutrition experts like Vera Spellerberg recommend that children ideally have some breakfast at home and take a healthy second breakfast with them to school for the break to cover their energy needs. When sandwiches are often brought home, the Internet provides many original and at the same time healthy ideas for child-friendly lunch boxes and snack boxes - especially lovingly prepared bento boxes are now also a trend in Germany. In the "Bento", originally from Japan, different dishes are served in special tins with partitions - this is also popular with children and ensures a varied diet during breaks. Some examples:


Jamie Oliver failed as a pioneer

British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver had an ambitious goal. He wanted to make school canteen food healthier in England. The British government was enthusiastic, but then Health Minister Andrew Lansley described the plans as a failure. Many parents also turned their backs on the “kitchen revolution”, and worries about the diversity of food in England's school canteens are more than justified. They have long been criticized because the students often only got sausages, fries and cheaply processed burgers for lunch. There were hardly any alternatives to these greasy dishes and it didn't bother the English, after all, they are more or less traditional eating habits.

Diet has serious consequences as around two million British children are unfortunately overweight. School lunches were worth an average of 60 cents to the British government. For comparison: depending on the federal state, spending in this country is between 3 and 4 euros per meal. The TV chef took on the problem and demonstrated the truth to the English on his show "Jamie's School Dinners". There was even an online petition called “Feed me better”. 250,000 people signed.

Thanks to the kitchen revolution, broccoli and spinach should now drive chocolate bars, chips and co. From the menu. The then primary minister even promised to spend $ 417 million on improving school meals. What sounded so good is now just the shadow of an idea. The then health minister strongly criticized Oliver and pointed out that the number of students who eat in the canteens has been reduced. In addition, more children would go to the shops near the schools to get food there. He also criticized Oliver's way of trying to dictate something to people.

But the headwind also showed through the parents. They brought burgers, fries and sausages to the school fence to give to their children and later to their friends. The star chef also flopped with a similar project in the USA, where the population in West Virginia even reacted aggressively to his kitchen revolution. Perhaps it was because the break with old eating habits was just too radical for the British and the Americans. A diet that has been practiced in the same way for decades cannot be turned upside down in no time. Jamie Oliver had to experience this firsthand, even if his ideas of a balanced diet are thoroughly laudable.

What needs to be done to improve school lunches?

First of all, the good news: The “Study on the Quality of School Lunch in the State of Berlin” also provides reasons to breathe a sigh of relief, because compared to the first study from 2014, the examined parameters have improved. This could be due, among other things, to the fact that food prices were raised and further framework conditions were sought to improve school catering. However, this is only a snapshot.

The improvement of the school meal is a permanent construction site. Again and again, the menus have to be adapted to the respective dietary recommendations. Incidentally, this also applies to the food price, which would have to be increased regularly to ensure good quality. The Association of School Caterers criticized the fact that the minimum wages that have now been introduced are making food prices outdated. In order to uncover black sheep among the caterers, you have to rely on the help of parents, teachers and students. In Berlin, parents can therefore contact the quality control office for school lunches.

Class 2000 ensures a healthy atmosphere in primary schools

She looks funny, the symbolic figure Klaro. It is a stick figure that teaches children what they can do themselves to keep them safe and comfortable. The class 2000 program starts early, so that children with a 1x1 of healthy living can start in grades 1-4. Teachers and specially trained health promoters devote themselves to the subject in an active, vivid and fun way.

Around 15 Class 2000 hours are held each school year on various health and life skills. This should enable children to acquire knowledge, attitudes and skills with which they can cope with their everyday lives. The aim is to convey to the children that they can do something for their own health. In addition, they should get to know their bodies and how a healthy lifestyle affects their wellbeing. Last but not least, the subject teaches children important life skills so that they can better deal with stress and resolve conflicts. What does this have to do with nutrition? Klaro is devoted to five different topics, with nutrition playing an important role.

Klaro provides content on the following topics:

  • Eat & drink healthily
  • Move & relax
  • Like yourself & have friends
  • Solve problems & conflicts
  • Think critically & say no

The subject is in great demand. The program was launched in 1991 and has so far reached 1.6 million children. At the moment, every third elementary school in Germany relies on teaching healthy content. In the 2017/2018 school year, more than 480,000 children from more than 21,200 primary school classes took part, which is a great percentage of over 15% of all primary school classes.

Parents contribute to a healthy diet

The parental home is a decisive factor on the path to healthy eating habits. Children first learn at home what it means to eat healthily. Regular meal times, balanced food combinations, not too many sweets and French fries do not belong on the plate every day - these are important lessons for the children. They are all born with a blank slate when it comes to their diet. Unhealthy eating habits creep into everyday life all too quickly. It is therefore important for parents to have a look at their child's menu. Only in this way can projects like Class 2000 with the symbolic figure Klaro be successful. After all, what use are all the good teachings if things are completely different at home.