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Headmaster's Blog

A healthy menu is so much more than it first appears to be

Feedback on the recent changes to our school menu has been very positive and the staff at the school have been positively euphoric! For some of our pupils, the meals have taken them out of their comfort zone but schools should always be looking to offer new culinary experiences, providing the basis for doing so is to provide healthy meals that will enhance their academic performance and overall education.

Mental health is a massive issue facing our youth and we must embrace every resource available to us to help our children. How often do we hear, “you are what you eat”? A healthy diet is a key contributor to mental well-being and this is why we are ensuring there are more vegetables, fruit, vegetarian options and natural yoghurt available at lunch time. Research in recent years has shown that a healthy diet is linked to a reduced risk of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety as well as improving your mood and concentration. This is an important consideration for us because we want the pupils to be able to concentrate more effectively in the afternoons. A heavy lunch does not help with this but a carefully balanced meal will not only be nutritious but enable more engagement in the afternoon – and ultimately better academic performance and better results!

A menu is so much more than just about the food that we eat. We encourage intellectual curiosity in every aspect of school and presenting the pupils with a menu that is different to what they might usually eat is an important part of creating a mindset that prepares them to continue to be curious, to try new things, to explore the unknown and to appreciate the rich tapestry of life rather than just accept what we know and what is comfortable. I am reminded of Donald Rumsfeld when he said “As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Trying the unknown is so important and it is the willingness to do this that can really unlock the desire to learn, understand and continue to always explore.

When we look at the menu, it is about recognising that our body is like a car and how well it runs depends on the fuel you give it. Food with the right nutrients, the right vitamins and good sources of protein all help to form the building blocks for the neurotransmitters in our brains and that is when we give ourselves the best opportunities to learn and retain what we have learned.

Our scientists inform us that in the coming decades the planet’s population is expected to grow to 10 billion people (within the lifetime of our children) and if we to continue to eat meat-rich diets the damage to the environment, via greenhouse gases from livestock, deforestation and water shortages from farming, and vast ocean dead zones from agricultural pollution will be devastating.

It may only be a small gesture by Thorpe House to have a “Meat-free” lunch once a week but it shows that we care – we care for our planet and we want our pupils and parents to care too. If we stick our heads in the sand we are failing our children but if we can start to change our mindsets, perhaps there is hope yet and along the way, perhaps we will also see better levels of concentration, better academic performance, better health and greater appreciation of our planet

Professor Peter Smith at the University of Aberdeen has said: “We know food choices are very personal, and that behaviour change can be difficult to encourage, but the evidence is now unequivocal – we need to change our diets if we are to have a sustainable future. The fact that it will also make us healthier makes it a no-brainer.”

I have waited until the end to mention that I am a Liverpool fan. If I think back to the match earlier in the season when Liverpool played Aston Villa, after 21 minutes it was not looking great. I could have switched off at that point and given up on the outcome but I stuck with it and by the end of the match Liverpool’s persistence and effort won them the game, even though it looked highly unlikely. Menus aren’t football matches but hopefully you can recognise the analogy; the benefits of something are not always immediately obvious and sometimes we need to see the long game and final results to recognise the benefits of something.

You are always most welcome to join me for lunch and to see first hand what is on offer.