The reasons why we believe that nutrition plays an important role in education.
We know that the first years of life are essential for the cognitive, emotional and social development of our children, but it is also a key time for establishing healthy eating habits and a positive relationship with food, which is why at Agora Sant Cugat International School we take nutritional education very seriously.
Food plays a fundamental role in maintaining good health and it is therefore very important for children to adopt healthy eating habits from early childhood; establishing a healthy relationship with food at a young age means that it is easier to maintain a healthy, balanced and varied diet in the future. Once bad nutritional habits have been established, it becomes far harder to eradicate them later in life. To establish and develop this positive and healthy relationship with food, school and home must work together to make it happen.
Figures provided by the World Health Organization, indicate that worldwide, the number of infants and young children (0 to 5 years) who are overweight or obese increased from 32 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2016. If current trends continue, the number of overweight infants and young children will increase to 70 million by 2025 (more information on this link).
Risks associated with poor diet
To help students understand the need for a healthy diet, it is important to understand the role that nutrition plays in child development. Agora Sant Cugat International School’s Head Chef, Isaac Cortes explains “Good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle make a positive contribution to how your body forms and grows, promoting better health, and improving physical and intellectual performance. Proper nutrition is the first line of defence against many childhood diseases that, if not prevented, can have life-long implications. The effects of malnutrition in early childhood (0 to 8 years) can be devastating and long-lasting, impeding behavioural and cognitive development and academic performance, and in the longer term affecting reproductive health and productivity at work”.
Families should be aware that some of the chronic diseases suffered from early childhood, can be attributable in part to overeating and/or poor nutrition. A balanced diet and healthy eating patterns established from a young age help to prevent these nutrition-related issues and can also help to improve cognitive development: “A healthy, balanced diet in childhood can help to prevent nutritional disorders, anaemia, overweight, obesity, dental cavities and some cognitive issues, and to avoid problems in later life such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer”, [Isaac Cortes].
Some of the more common nutritional pitfalls
In order to make positive changes to the family’s diet, it is important to be able to identify some of the more common nutritional mistakes that we make. Our school chef, Isaac Cortez, identifies a few of the products that can be problematic:
- Dairy products: many children consume more dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) than their bodies need (approximately 3 servings a day). Excessive consumption of dairy products can cause a loss of appetite, problems absorbing iron and constipation, in addition to an excessive intake of animal fats and associated saturated fats.
- Pre-packed fruit juices: many families resort to juice cartons as they are a quick and easy snack-box solution, however, they do not provide the same amount of fibre and vitamins as a piece of fruit, and in general these types of sugary drink do not quench thirst, but encourage children to consume more.
- Industrially manufactured pastries and processed breads: these products incorporate a large amount of added sugar and as they tend to be soft, the chewing effort necessary for the development of teeth, gums and facial muscles is reduced or eliminated.
- Red meat, sausages and processed meats: both children and adults tend to consume too much of this type of food, leading to the ingestion of large quantities of saturated animal fats. White meat, fish and legumes are generally healthier options.
How do we teach our pupils about healthy nutrition?
To encourage our pupils to adopt and internalise healthy eating habits we talk about the importance of good nutrition in class, and provide a range of opportunities for our pupils to discuss healthy eating and learn about the importance of a balanced and varied diet.
As part of our commitment to healthy eating, Agora Sant Cugat International School offers an onsite dining service and a selection of carefully planned menus. The main school has three dining rooms with capacity for 404, 302 and 156 students respectively, and a fourth dining facility at our infant school, Agora Patufet, which accommodates 72 students. Food is prepared and cooked in our own kitchens and menus are planned in accordance with the age and varying requirements of our students. We provide specially prepared meals for students with special dietary requirements or specific medical conditions, and our selection of healthy, balanced menus are prepared under the guidance of a qualified dietician. Normal menus are: general, hypocaloric, lactose-free, gluten-free and vegetarian.
Recently we have incorporated a “Students’ day” into our monthly menu, when the students from one class vote on what the menu for the school will be on that day: “The fact that the children participate and are involved in the decision-making process for the menu encourages them to develop an interest in, and knowledge about nutrition” says Cortes, who also points out that “at lunchtimes we get to talk to those students who find it a little more difficult to see the importance of healthy meals, and this helps us to obtain first-hand information about the progress of our nutrition project”.
We are committed to providing our pupils with healthy food and quality nutrition and we are constantly searching for new and tasty ways in which we can achieve this goal; we are continually updating our menus and reinforcing our commitment to nutritional education.
Advice from specialist children’s chef Juan Llorca
As a school community we are looking to promote academic excellence, but this goes hand in hand with acquiring a wide range of knowledge and skills relating to all-round physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. We turned to the well-known chef and expert in children’s nutrition and infant feeding, Juan Llorca, for advice on menu planning, and we now offer more fruit and vegetables, a greater variety of fresh food, (rather than precooked or ultra-processed foods), more vegetable proteins (especially legumes), and only the best quality animal protein. When preparing our food, we choose healthier cooking techniques, reducing the presence of fried foods and making a real commitment to a nutritional health.
In his blog, Juan Llorca assures us that he is “convinced that education can improve a child’s relationship with food” and at Agora Sant Cugat we work every day to make this relationship as healthy and rewarding as possible.