What is your opinion on school lunches

How good is school lunch in Germany?

IN FORM: You represented different groups of people in the Germany-wide study on the quality of school food. Which groups were interviewed?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: 212 school authorities nationwide who are responsible for 5,018 schools, 1,554 school administrators (plus the dataset from Bavaria with 1,976 school administrators collected a year earlier) and 12,566 pupils from primary and secondary schools were surveyed.

Which key results can be summarized from the study?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: It is pleasing that most schools offer the pupils food and drink: mostly lunch, various drinks and snacks. When it comes to snacks, bread or rolls, fast food, sweet baked goods and sweets predominate. After all, fresh fruit is relatively often on offer, and raw vegetables and vegetables are rarely on offer. In primary schools there is often only one menu for lunch, while in secondary schools there is usually two menus and more to choose from. Salads and desserts as well as soups complete the offer. The requirements of the quality standard for school meals of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) are only partially met: There is still too often meat, too seldom fish and by no means fresh fruit or vegetables and salad every day. In all regions, the catering system of delivering food that has been kept warm predominates.

What influence do the school administrators have on the organization of school meals?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: A big influence: For example, you determine the break times, which are very short, between 20 and 30 minutes, in 30% of the schools surveyed. You decide on the occupancy of the refectories and the opening times of refectories, cafeterias and kiosks. They are also responsible for who the school has to contact when it comes to food: whether there is a catering committee, a cafeteria committee or something similar and how the cooperation with the school authority takes place.

And what role do the school authorities and food providers play?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: The billing and order formalities are determined by the providers. The fact that in the majority of schools (80.8%) a pre-order is necessary is also likely to be due to the providers. In most of the federal states, the school and material expenses authorities decide on the contracts with the food providers. They include the schools both in the preparation of the service specifications and in the selection of providers. The school authorities provide the rooms and the equipment. They finance the operating costs such as energy and water and partly take over the cleaning costs or the costs for the dispensing staff. In addition, there are also municipalities that contribute to the costs of school meals with direct subsidies, so that parents pay lower prices for school meals. While service specifications often exist (44.2%), quality control only rarely takes place (27.7%). The DGE quality standard is known to the school authorities and is often part of the contract (50.3%), but certification is not required. School management and school boards are familiar with the school catering network, and this also applies to the DGE quality standard. However, there are sometimes considerable differences depending on the federal state.

What reasons do the students have to eat in the cafeteria for lunch?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: The motives why schoolchildren visit the cafeteria are diverse. In individual cases it may be that lunch is compulsory for you at school. Almost 45% say that they want it that way and just as many say that because their parents work. 40% cite "hunger" and 37% "friends" as the reason. (Multiple answers were possible to this question.) The reasons why people do not eat at school for lunch are even more diverse. The taste of the food is most often mentioned here. Further reasons are the competing offer "to have lunch at home", but also "no desire" or "no hunger". The short break, the bad atmosphere or the complicated ordering and payment are mentioned less often. (This question was conceived as a free text answer, to which a total of 7,903 responses were given.) Schoolchildren are rarely involved in the organization. Only 1,102 students answered this question. Usually they are entrusted with clearing, table setting or making decorations. After all, they are also allowed to express their wishes about the choice of food and are included in the evaluation of the food.

How do the students themselves rate lunch at school?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: Students rate lunch very differently. This meal plays a central role for them. Most of the food in primary education is rated as satisfactory to very good, and somewhat worse in secondary education. (Average grade 2.5 in primary and 2.6 in secondary). In the secondary school, certain aspects of lunch were also assessed. Here the mean values ​​for appearance, taste and quantity are comparatively low at 2.7 to 3.0. The requests and suggestions for school catering range from personal food requests to comments on cleanliness and hygiene to room design. In relation to the general conditions, the students rate the background noise and the cosiness of the rooms in particular negatively.

What can parents consider and what can they do when it comes to school meals?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: Parents should make sure that the food on offer is healthy and that the children like it. It is to be rated positively if the school involves the children and young people in the design of the food on offer. A salad buffet with changing fresh components is a good sign. The same applies if there is a daily vegetarian alternative on the menu. Providers who have a DGE certificate must prove that their food offer meets the requirements of the DGE quality standard for school catering. In the absence of such a certificate, parents should ask why this is the case. Parents themselves can actively contribute. Parents' evenings are well suited as a forum for formulating requirements. The school conferences and special catering committees can also be active here. If it doesn't work out as planned, the school management or the responsible teacher are the first point of contact. It is important to realize that healthy food improves mental and physical performance. Parents should appreciate this accordingly and encourage their children to visit the school canteen. And: if you demand quality, you should be aware that it has its price!

What should a healthy school lunch look like and how expensive can a good meal be?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: For lunch in schools, it is assumed that 25% of the total energy requirement is covered. The choice of food for lunch should be based on the DGE's food pyramid. Whole grain products must be on offer, vegetables and salads daily (including legumes) fresh or frozen fruit 8 x for 20 catering days, 8 x milk and dairy products in the 1.5% fat variant (for cheese max. in the full fat level), max. 8 x meat and at least 4 x fish. Sufficient drinks, preferably water, must be offered daily. Rapeseed oil is used as the standard oil. It is important that the seasonal offer is taken into account, regional foods are used and culture-specific and religious framework conditions are observed. With regard to the price, it is difficult to make a statement for the whole of Germany. The prices quoted by the school authorities and school administrators are not identical, but fluctuate around € 3.00. If the real costs are calculated, it can be seen that they are significantly higher than the prices for lunch. Their amount depends on the respective catering system as well as on the quantity produced. The more dishes that can be sold, the lower the price per meal. However, differences in food prices and the quality of the offer are also noticeable (for example a high proportion of regional products or a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables).

Where can parents get support with questions or information needs regarding school meals?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: So far we don't have a central office that parents can turn to. The organizations that specifically deal with school catering, such as the DGE in Bonn or the school catering network offices, which are located in all federal states, work primarily with school administrators, teachers and school bodies. Nevertheless, the institutions are also prepared to inform laypeople accordingly. A lot of interesting information can be found on the organizations' websites. Individual networking centers even offer corresponding events.

Overall, the school catering is on the right track. What can be improved in the future?

Professor Ulrike Arens-Azevedo: The quality of school catering has many facets. Our investigation made it clear that the quality can still be improved in practically all areas. This applies, for example, to the food on offer: it must be attractive, taste good and be nutritionally balanced. Diversity throughout the year, special days or weeks of action can increase the attractiveness. This can also be achieved by including particularly popular dishes and leaving out less popular ones. Classic meals are less interesting for older students; they are more tempted with balanced snacks. The environment needs to be improved significantly. This applies in particular to the rooms, which often do not allow any partitions, as well as to the background noise, which is perceived as too loud by school administrators and students. Long waiting times before serving and breaks that are too short do not encourage participation in lunch. The same applies to long pre-order periods. It would be ideal if the decision to go to the cafeteria could be made spontaneously. A major shortcoming so far has been the involvement of schoolchildren. School is a place where participation is lived at all levels, this should be used much more intensively. It is important to involve schoolchildren in the design of the school restaurant, to discuss opening times and to regularly include requests for the food on offer. Students are great test eaters when introducing new dishes. And finally: students must be able to express their satisfaction. These results should always give rise to changes.