National School Meals Week: My daughter Martha Payne showed that if you feed children well at school, they perform better in class

Martha Payne's NeverSeconds blog proved the school canteen should be a place to set the standard for healthy eating.

Share

Notes to school usually contain details of dentist appointments and eye tests.

Writing a note to inform Martha’s class teacher that her blog had gone viral overnight, was the unexpected consequence of supporting her desire to write every day about her school dinner. It seems she couldn’t have picked a more emotive topic.

Everyone has a memory of their school dinners, and her posts were giving people a chance to compare their memories to her photographs, and like me, many were surprised.

Martha rated her dinners but more than that she told us how they made her feel. Macaroni cheese and jelly cheered her up after she broke her wrist and she gave it ten out of ten on her food-o-meter. Her daily dose of school dinners grew an international following and children from around the world sent in photos and global comparisons could be made.

Hungry children around the world weren’t forgotten, and support for Mary’s Meals was Martha’s idea to remember those with less.  In a world of growing diet related health issues children were photographing, writing and engaging in food, health and nutrition.

A joke headline in a newspaper led to Argyll and Bute Council banning Martha taking photos. Censoring of a nine year-old girl was condemned across the world and the ban lasted 26 hours.

Donations then flooded in to Martha’s JustGiving page and the total has passed through £120,000 for Mary’s Meals.  What started as a writing exercise about her school dinners was now able to build a kitchen at Lirangwe School in Malawi and feed a school dinner to 12,000 hungry children every school day for a year.

When we visited Malawi, the teachers told us how important a school dinner was. Kids came to school for something to eat and got the energy they needed to study. Exam results went up, and vitally, the number names of the list of deceased pupils decreased. It really brings home the message of how important the project is when the headteacher needs to keep a record of all deaths of children in the school.

It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, teachers will tell you the same story. Feed children well at school and they perform better in class.

School dinners in the UK need to meet this target, but in a way that encourages the right habits. Every time a child sits in school with a pizza, burger, hot dog or other variant of junk food, we are teaching them it’s the right food to eat. 

It doesn’t matter if the pizza is low sodium with a vegetable packed sauce and low quantities of strong cheese, because that’s not what they will find as an adult on the supermarket shelves.

The memories of school dinners influence people for the rest of their lives. School dinners should not be about refuelling but about educating children. The dining hall should be treated as another classroom with the job of producing a great lesson in healthy eating every day.

This week is National School Meals Week, organised by the Local Authority Catering Association (LACA), the association which represents the school food industry.

We’re all encouraged to take part on twitter using #LoveSchoolFood but what if you don’t ‘Love School Food’? What if your school has lost its kitchen or you’re at an academy where standards have disappeared?

A presumptive hashtag is a barrier to a proper debate. We do need to celebrate fantastic school dinners, but we shouldn’t forget those less fortunate. During National School Meal Week I’d like to see not just the providers, but the customers, the children, encouraged to take photographs of their dinners and blog about them. Let's use this week to see what our children are really eating.

David Payne is the smallholding father of nine year old Martha Payne whose NeverSeconds blog about her school dinners has had over 8.5 million hits and raised more than £120,000 for charity.

Twitter: @NeverSeconds

NeverSeconds - The Incredible Story of Marth Payne released 15 November by Cargo Publishing

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

Physics Teacher

£130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

We need to talk about homophobia in the police

George Gillett
 

i Editor's letter: Summer holidays are here... so what to do with the children?

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn