Roundtable Discussion：School Lunches at the International Schools
Edited by Camilla Ohlsson
Parents who's children attend 3 different international schools joined us for the discussion:
Ali MacKenzie, two daughters: Freya (15) and Leila (11), attending British International School Shanghai, Puxi.
Melissa Rytokoski, three sons: Alex (6) Max (6) and Jack (8), attending Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS), Hongqiao Campus.
Claire Snoddy, a son and a daughter: Oliver (14) and Kate (13), attending Wellington College.
What do your kids eat for breakfast?
Melissa: My boys enjoy their favorite crepe-style pancakes and berries/bananas almost every day. Each boy has his favorite fruit topping. They love to have yogurt drinks every morning.
Claire: On school days they both eat wholegrain and fiber cereal and fruit for breakfast along with fresh fruit juice. Freshly squeezed lemon and water is a favorite at the moment. On weekends they may also eat eggs in omelets or French toast, and sometimes croissants.
Do they bring food or snacks to school?
Ali: They have a school snack which is usually fruit, and we supplement this with a cereal bar (nut-free, as BISS is a nut-free school)
Melissa: My eldest son brings a packed lunch, and all three boys bring snacks. The packed lunch includes a sandwich (cheese, chicken or salami), banana or grapes, apple juice, cheese crackers and random treats as I have them. The snacks include three different items each day, such as a mix of dried fruit (mango or berries), cheese, chips, Yakult yogurt drinks, snack cakes, raisins, goldfish crackers, grapes, strawberries or bananas.
Claire: As they both participate in daily after school sports activities or sports academies they take additional snacks to eat at the end of the school day. Usually some fruit or cereal bars.
What do they eat at school?
Ali: Both my girls are vegetarian, so they will have different choices from the school canteen each day. They can choose the vegetarian hot meal such as lasagna or other pasta dishes, stir fried vegetables, noodles, vegetable bakes, samosas etc. These main meals come with fresh vegetables and a side salad, soup and fruit. If they don’t want the set meal they can have a main salad, a sandwich, sushi or wraps. Of course there are more choices for non-vegetarians, but vegetarians are quite well catered to.
Melissa：In addition to the items they bring for their snack, my two younger sons enjoy the school lunch. They mention that they like to eat the noodle dishes and fried rice, the yummy dumplings, the Chinese style fish and all of the fruit.
Claire: When eating school lunches they have several choices. These include carbs in the form of potato dishes, pasta, rice or breads and protein through a variety of meat options, eggs, couscous and fish. There is also a wide range of fruit and vegetables.
Do you feel that your kids get enough nutrients to last them through the day?
Ali: They have plenty of healthy food to sustain them – if they choose to eat it! Our youngest can be quite picky so we are constantly pushing her to make healthy choices and to actually eat a bit more. The school staff also tries to watch out for this and encourage good eating habits.
Claire: I feel that a balanced diet is provided over the course of a day, though I would always welcome an additional supply of fruit offered at strategically-timed snack points and calcium in yogurts or skimmed milk drinks.
How aware are you of your kids’ food habits during a school day?
Ali: The girls know what constitutes healthy eating and we trust them to make good choices, at least most of the time. Over the years, school staff has also been supportive in watching out for our youngest daughter to ensure she eats enough and makes balanced choices.
Melissa: I am aware of the snacks provided by the school as I have seen them given to each class. The teachers send home class schedules so I am aware of the times that snacks, and time to eat, will be provided. I also read the schools' weekly cafeteria menu schedule and am generally clear on the nutrients contained in each item. I periodically ask the boys about their snacks and if they feel full enough during the day. Just a quick check here and there.
Claire: I am quite on the ball when it comes to knowing what Kate and Oliver eat. We discuss daily what they both have had at school. I also know that if they have the opportunity to eat or drink a ‘sweet’ treat they will take it!
Is there any way you think the school lunch could be improved?
Ali: The lunches are good but of course there are always ways to improve. All schools need to work hard to ensure they are sourcing high quality ingredients to provide nutritional meals, especially here in China. It is also important to make food that will be both healthy and appealing to children - our school parent food committee works closely with the canteen staff to continually look at how they can improve menus and generally consider how the lunch offer can be better. This also involves training canteen staff to serve balanced portions and to present the food well. It would also be good to increase the range of vegetarian dishes as many non-vegetarian children also want to opt for these dishes sometimes. This is something BISS Puxi are working on for next year.
Melissa: I think the menu generally offers enough variety to meet the palate needs of most children, even when considering cultural and familial tastes. I think the actual process during lunch, which has teachers monitoring the students, is very efficient. It steers children toward eating versus talking, and helps them to pace themselves in order to eat the entire meal. For me, working around a child's eating habits is the most difficult obstacle to good nutrition.
Claire: School lunches are always an interesting topic and I’m confident my two would say they would like more options. However, if they were to pick the menu it might not necessarily be a balanced one!
Do you think there is any difference between the school lunches they are getting in Shanghai compared to what they would get in their home countries?
Ali: The menu choices are possibly a bit wider to cater to the internationally diverse student group as the school needs to respect all pallets and preferences. They wouldn’t get sushi or Singapore noodles at home. It is also great that there is no vending machine in sight, so no fizzy drinks, crisps or chocolate available.
Melissa: We embrace the local palate and mix of cultures, and feel that in the school. Though the boys haven't gone to school in the U.S. or Finland, we are aware that the school lunches include fare that is considered mainstream in those countries. That is to be expected, and acceptance of this is a vital part of life as an expat.
Do your kids think the school food is tasty?
Melissa: Yes. My twins often come home and mention that their lunch was “the best food ever.” Luckily, I haven't felt insulted (yet). I have tried the dumplings and some other dishes during school events, and agree they have good flavor. In fact, my son Max and I were fishing yesterday, and he said he wanted me to cook the fish exactly as the school serves it. My eldest son has insisted on a packed lunch since he came to the school, but he has agreed to try the sandwich bar during the new school year, and that is a major step for him. What can I say? He likes sandwiches.
Are your kids active throughout the day?
Ali: Yes – as well as full days of learning they are involved in after school activities and sports.
Melissa: A big YES! My boys wake up at 5am every morning, and drag me – okay, actually my husband - out of bed with them. They are lively and animated immediately, and they will run and play soccer before the school bus arrives. When they get home from school they are still ready to climb and run and wrestle… it seems never ending! We have a nightly routine mainly just to calm them down enough to sleep.
Claire: Both Oliver and Kate love sport and are very active. They participate every day of the week in at least one sporting activity, and they love football.
Do you think your kids generally eat healthy?
Ali: Yes – for the most part they eat well and know what healthy food is. However, we believe in a balanced approach and all things are fine in moderation, so they do also get some treats and the occasional fizzy drinks (though not too often).
Melissa: Yes. I think we do our best at home, and feel confident that the school lunches are also helping with nutritional goals. Perhaps we aren't always succeeding on a daily basis, but I am pretty sure we are doing well on a weekly basis when all is considered. I believe in providing our boys with the best in nutrition, but I also think it is fun to let them have a treat or two each week! I still remember when my mother would give me my favorite candy each Friday as a treat for eating well during the week. It makes me smile, and I want that for my boys as well as the good overall nutrition.
Claire: I am happy that they both eat a healthy and balanced diet. They do like treats but ‘everything in moderation’ is my mantra!