When it’s time to assess the standard of a school, there is one big area that parents have previously overlooked - health. Perhaps you have taken scrupulous care of health concerns at home, but most likely your child spends more time at school than anywhere else. Especially in Shanghai, where the air pollution can influence outdoor activities in the winter season, where almost every international school has their own catering facility, where a multicultural community can further complicate peer pressure and school bullying, the importance of wellness at school is self-evident. And the more schools work on promoting and implementing a healthy environment, the better a child can concentrate on their academic performance and other areas.
To give our parent readers a comprehensive picture of health at school, we speak with Bernard Low, Unit Manager from Sodexo, a world leader in quality of life services at NAIS Shanghai, Pudong.
What factors should be considered when planning student meals and how do you continually provide variety in the menu?
We recognize that food plays an important part in the children’s day, and the inclusion of a balanced menu has been shown (through medical research) to improve concentration and aid development. Each school group has different requirements, where the ratios of fiber, fruit and vegetables, protein and fats are altered to provide the recommended daily amount. Other factors such as change of season and exam periods all have an effect on the type of dishes offered.
It’s always a dilemma when it comes to the health attributes and the taste; how do you balance these two factors?
There is a misconception that healthy food isn’t tasty, and we are working hard to eliminate this. We teach the children from an early age about the benefits of eating healthy and hope they continue with this mindset through life. We are naturally drawn to sugar and fats and in moderation these are perfectly fine to consume. However, our aim is to encourage children to eat responsibly by changing behaviors and involving them as much as possible through school farm projects, cooking classes and access to nutritionists.
Do you have a system to keep the parents informed on the menu you are providing? And how much do parents influence your planning?
We have a menu available on our school website NAIS Pudong for parents and students to view. We have access to menus a month in advance, where we can see the types of food offered, including cooking methods and dietary information. We welcome input from parents and pass this information on to Sodexo. We are able to communicate with parents and inform them about life at the school via email and the school’s intranet site.
Compared to the Western packed lunch culture, what are the advantages of having a fully equipped cafeteria in school?
The biggest advantage is that the child receives a healthy balanced hot meal, which has been developed by Sodexo, our world-leading life service partner, and its team of experts.
Different diets suit different people; can this variation be applied to students in school?
Yes, it’s obvious when it comes to students with different ages. There are students from early years to Senior School IB who eat in our canteens, so we are always catering to variations in student requirements. We have two separate canteens (for the different age groups) with customized menus and recipes. And within these canteens there is a variety of different dishes for the students to choose from.
Apart from promoting a healthy diet, how do you also implement positive eating behaviors and provide a healthy eating environment?
We have a nutrition guide and various teaching programs; actually, it’s also part of our co-curricular activities. We work with Sodexo and have introduced the Bike-n-Blend program, where students assemble a bicycle, which powers a blender, that is used to make healthy smoothies. Sodexo provide a dietitian and nutritionist to talk to the different age groups and coach them on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. The eating environment is also tailored for students by Sodexo’s kitchen and restaurant design experts, to create a warm, welcome and green atmosphere for dining time.
Bernard Low is the Unit Manager from Sodexo, a world leader in quality of life services at NAIS Shanghai, Pudong. Bernard is responsible for managing all of the food and beverage needs of the students and providing them with a healthy well-rounded diet throughout the school day.