School lunches: Lots of cooks – no recipe

Status: 07.11.2021 2:51 p.m.

Good school lunches are a matter of luck for millions of children in Germany. There are no uniform regulations for all 16 federal states. It is very clear what should be on the plate.

The Gasthof Lamm has been cooking for school children for 20 years. “At first nobody ate our celery salad – now the children are screaming for it. You have to try something six to eight times so that you might like it,” says Roman Mattheis.

It all started with the local school, but Mattheis and his wife Daniela now deliver around 2,000 meals a day. Initially still according to mother’s recipes, now certified by the German Nutrition Society, because they cook voluntarily according to their DGE quality standards.

That is important to Mattheis. “When I, as a Swabian, say that we are making a child-friendly meal, that does not mean that it is healthy.” An independent control body is therefore good. “I am also convinced that for 80 percent of children, food is the only reasonable meal of the day.” Many parents are employed and eat in canteens themselves at lunchtime. “And in the evening there is often not enough time or inclination to cook lavishly.”

Too bland, too boring: school meals could be healthy and tasty.

Image: dpa

Good school lunch standards

By resolution of the Standing Conference (KMK), all-day schools are obliged to offer lunch. According to the KMK, this affects around 3.5 million schoolchildren nationwide.

What this lunch looks like varies from state to state, from municipality to municipality, from school to school. “There is not even a regulation nationwide as to whether it has to be a warm meal or whether a cold meal is sufficient,” says Stephanie Klein from the DGE’s “IN FORM in communal catering” project.

It is very clear what should be on the plate. On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the DGE has developed standards for good school meals down to the smallest detail. Vegetables and grain products would be good every day, including raw vegetables twice a week and a whole grain product at least once. Meat or sausage should only be on the menu once a week and fish once a week.

Education instead of implementation

But there is a lack of implementation. Only Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Saarland and Thuringia stipulate that the DGE quality standards must be adhered to. However, in some cases not for all grades and with very long implementation deadlines, says Peter von Philipsborn. In a research project at the Ludwig Maximilians University and the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology, he examined school meals, among other things.

He sees an urgent need for action. “For too long politics has focused exclusively on education and the provision of information, but too little on binding implementation.” It is known that nutrition education and education are important, but that what comes on the table has the greatest influence on eating behavior.

An apple in between can also be delicious.

Photo: Andrea Ege

The US is further

Internationally one is further there. In the USA, for example, there are nationwide mandatory quality standards for school lunches. Among other things, these stipulate that vegetables and fruit must be offered every day and that half of all cereal products must be whole grain products, according to the Philipsborn research project.

Why are the quality standards not binding everywhere in Germany? Mattheis from Gasthof Lamm says: “It’s a balancing act: observing the quality standards and at the same time bringing something on the table that the children like.” And those who use a lot of finished products cannot comply with the specifications at all. For example with fruit yoghurt. Six grams of sugar are allowed per 100 grams, but the standard contains 14-18 grams per 100 grams. In the Gasthaus Lamm they therefore work a lot with natural yoghurt and then mix in their own fruit or homemade jam.

“Eat well and happily”

There are many projects, websites and information brochures on everything to do with nutrition, some of them from official sources. So the awareness that something has to be done is there. The Ministry of Agriculture of Baden-Württemberg wrote on request: “Years of experience have shown that the quality of school food varies widely. In many cases there is potential for improvement.”

As early as 2016, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture set up a National Quality Center for Nutrition in Kita and School (NQZ). In addition, there are so-called network offices for school catering in every federal state. The former director Anke Oepping of the NQZ is quoted on their homepage as follows: “The common concern of the Federal Ministry of Food, the NQZ and the networking agencies is that children and young people in all day-care centers and schools in Germany eat well and happily.”

Children and young people should “eat well and happily” in all schools – that is the aim.

Image: Roman Mattheis

Grade 3.2 for food

If you ask parents and students, that rarely sounds like culinary enthusiasm. The tenor is rather: “We have no other choice.” The last nationwide study on school lunches by the federal government so far is from 2015. In Stuttgart, schoolchildren were surveyed at the beginning of the year. Your opinion: The food deserves a 3.2. Most often they wished that the food tasted better and was more varied.

Everyone is only a little bit responsible

There are instructions for this. The “DGE quality standard for catering in schools”, which Stephanie Klein helped to develop. The question remains why this is not mandatory in so many federal states. Klein considers the unresolved responsibility to be one of the main problems.

It already starts with which ministry in the respective federal state would be responsible. School catering is currently being organized by various ministries. The one for nutrition, the ministry of culture and the building ministry, which is expanding the canteens, for example. Then there are different school bodies, and at the schools themselves the question arises: does the school organize all-day care and thus also lunch or does an extra provider organize all of this? Another problem: School meals are often just an appendix to the subject of all-day care. Every school needs someone who feels primarily responsible for the topic.

Mattheis from Gasthof Lamm sees it that way too. You need people who teach children that healthy can also be delicious. “Otherwise they only want pizza, kebab or schnitzel.”

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