Pies and cookies still fill tuck shops

By Martin Johnston, Vaimoana Tapaleao

Herald survey indicates efforts to improve school food have failed.

Yendarra School pupils (from left) Anna Leituala, Nivarah Tawhai-Huiarangi and Walter Patalo, all aged 6, tuck into their healthy lunches. Photo / Natalie Slade
Yendarra School pupils (from left) Anna Leituala, Nivarah Tawhai-Huiarangi and Walter Patalo, all aged 6, tuck into their healthy lunches. Photo / Natalie Slade

Pies, hot dogs and cookies feature strongly in school tuck shops, a survey has found, suggesting efforts to improve the quality of the school food supply have failed.

The nationwide Herald survey of tuck shop menus from 30 primary, intermediate and high schools found the majority still sold many unhealthy foods and drinks - those with higher levels of saturated fat, salt or sugar.

This is despite ongoing concerns about the poor quality of food in schools and its association with weight problems and lowered academic performance.

At least 10 per cent of pupils are obese and more than 20 per cent are overweight - statistics that could represent a timebomb of chronic disease and rising taxpayer spending on healthcare when today's students reach middle age.

The sale of unhealthy foods was virtually banned at schools - briefly - by the last Labour-led Government in a move widely supported by public health experts.

National repealed the rule in 2009 on grounds that schools should not have to be "food police", but it retained another requiring schools "to promote healthy food and drink".

The survey shows 86 per cent of schools had pies or sausage rolls on their menus, while 90 per cent offered some kind of cookie, fudge, chocolate biscuit or slice. Up to 67 per cent sold hot dogs.

Most of the schools sold various kinds of juice, while one also sold Coca-Cola and another the energy drink Powerade.

The responses from a number of tuck shops, however, indicated a focus on being healthy.

Fruit was offered at nearly half the schools, with one giving it to students free.

Just 30 per cent had sushi on the menu, while nearly all offered sandwiches or salad rolls.

Four schools had a water-only policy so did not sell soft drinks.

In 2006, the Education Minister at the time, Steve Maharey, and Green MP Sue Kedgley announced a $3- million-a-year nutrition fund to help schools provide healthier food.

The Greens surveyed school canteens that year. The Herald's findings indicate little progress since then.

The Greens found 84 per cent sold pies, 64 per cent cookies or cakes and 30 per cent fruit. Ms Kedgley said that although many schools had adopted a healthier approach to food, many were reverting to old ways.

"It's much easier to make a profit on junk food and there's no incentive on them to move from selling pies and Coke to making healthy sandwiches and hot food etc.

"My suspicion is that we're right back where we were ... or that we're slipping back."

Some schools encouraged students to bring packed lunches, opening their tuck shops only one or two days a week.

Auckland University of Technology nutrition professor Elaine Rush called on the Government to resurrect the ban on unhealthy food sales. She likened it to making seatbelts and bicycle helmets compulsory and banning smoking at schools.

Obesity was just part of the picture. Children who ate the wrong foods were missing out on essential vitamins, minerals and fibre and this could affect intelligence and ability to concentrate.

"We're setting them up for failure."

At Royal Road School in West Auckland, fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been planted to encourage students to be healthy.

Principal Wayne Leighton said: "We've got feijoa, plum, citrus and guava trees; a pumpkin patch, vege garden and herbs. We even have sugarcanes.

"The kids get to plant those trees, look after them, see them grow and then eat from them.

"They're projects that hopefully are teaching them about growing up healthy."

The latest obesity statistics show one in 12 children aged 2 to 14 is obese.

Ms Kedgley said parents should be aware that eating habits developed in childhood set children up for life.

"Try taking a kid who drinks Coca-Cola to stop and start drinking water - it's extremely difficult."

School tucker

Pies: 86 per cent of tuck shops sell them

Cookies or chocolate biscuits: 90 per cent

Pizza: 73 per cent

Hot dogs: 67 per cent

Juice: 80 per cent

Fizzy drinks: 10 per cent

Flavoured milk: 86 per cent

Water: 80 per cent

Sushi: 30 per cent

Fruit: 43 per cent

School's success in changing lunchbox habits

Pupils at Yendarra School in Otara sit outside their classroom with lunchboxes in their laps. Out come ham sandwiches, salad rolls, carrot stick and apples. Only water bottles are seen.

Suddenly there's a crinkling sound and heads turn.

The girl with the pre-packaged biscuit looks embarrassed as she scrambles to hide it underneath the packet of chips.

The teacher holds up the crisps and cookie asking: "What ... are these?"

"A treat," someone says. "We can only have it sometimes."

Pupils at the school are part of a movement that six years ago thanks to principal Susan Dunlop.

When Mrs Dunlop first started, she couldn't believe what children were bringing for lunch to school each day.

"Kids would turn up with two-litre bottles of Coke and a big packet of chips - that was their lunch for the day.

"We had behavioural problems and hyper kids and it wasn't a good environment. That week I thought, 'right, this has to change'."

Today the school tuck shop only offers salad rolls and water.

There is free fruit every day and only on "special picnic days" do treat foods come out.

Mrs Dunlop said the tuck shop was also something of a luxury place now, as parents were encouraged to simply send children to school with a sandwich or salad roll, some fruit and a water bottle.

She said parents were happier because that meant school lunches were now much cheaper and children were less fussy about food and drink.

"Their kids aren't crying for expensive drinks or treat foods now."

The children's behaviour was also much better and the school was a happier place to be, Mrs Dunlop said.

- NZ Herald

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