At first glance one might tend to overlook the humble school canteen, but on reflection I think most people would agree that the canteen is one of the most important parts of school life. In this post I will consider two ways in which school canteens play indispensable roles in the life and functioning of schools. School administrators need to have a definite canteen policy, must establish canteen committees to seek to improve service and food quality and must work closely with canteen operators.
The two main ways in which school canteens have an impact on school life are in supporting teaching through proper nutrition and health practices; including the provision of special dietary requirements for some students and staff, and in being sectors of schools which can easily become trouble zones if specific measures are not put in place to prevent this.
A large proportion of students eat in school canteens every day. Since they cannot leave the school during the day they constitute a captive market for canteen operators. This, however, should never lead to exploitation through high prices or poor quality food and drinks. Schools have a duty to feed students and staff properly. Administrators and canteen committees must ensure that school canteens meet national standards for food preparation, storage, hygiene and safety. Failure to do so would result in serious health problems for staff and students who consume the fare.
Well planned school canteens support student development and learning. They provide adequate nutrition which gives students and staff high energy levels and prevents diseases, such as obesity and anaemia, which are related to poor diet. Progressive canteens also forge synergistic links with schools’ food and nutrition departments and agricultural science departments, where they exist. School canteens should serve food and drinks which are low in saturated fats, sugar, salt, and food dyes. More fruit, fruit juices, vegetables and whole grain bread should be on the menu. There should be fewer soft drinks, no energy drinks or sports drinks, no alcohol, and no deep-fried food. It will be necessary to retrain students’ palates in some instances, but this is in the best interests of the students.
As mentioned earlier, school canteens can become trouble zones if they are not closely regulated and supervised by the administration. Canteens can be a barometer for student conduct. If preventive measures are not put in place and enforced, lunchtime can be chaotic and this chaos can spill over into classes after lunch because some students may be late and unsettled. Some may even want to continue eating during class.
Administrators, school canteen committees, and operators must implement systems to enforce queuing and good behaviour in the canteen. A canteen duty roster for teachers and prefects is a necessity. The frequent presence of the principal and teachers will control negative behaviour. These measures will eliminate queue jumping, fighting, bullying and extortion of money or lunch from younger students during break and lunchtime.
School canteens can be pleasant spaces which contribute to the development of students and reflect a positive school climate.