Better eating, better learning: a new context for school food

Refreshed guidance to support schools and all stakeholders to work in partnership to make improvements in school food and food education.

Section 4 Food and Learning

THE CHALLENGE: To develop the breadth and depth of children and young people's knowledge, skills and attitudes related to food: where it comes from; how it is produced; what influences food choices and preferences; and the impact that food has on health and wellbeing and the environment.

Did you know … 360,000 people are employed in the food and drink industry in Scotland?

Why this matters

The inclusion of food and health as one of the six areas that make up health and wellbeing within Curriculum for Excellence provides a real opportunity to drive forward food education in Scotland. Learning in this area has a highly significant role to play in supporting dietary improvement and the establishment of lifelong habits which better support health and wellbeing, with the potential to increase attainment and reduce inequality.

When learning is planned and delivered well children and young people are better informed and develop the skills necessary to take responsibility for making appropriate food choices. They become more aware of the many factors which influence their choices and attitudes to food and also develop a better understanding of the economic and environmental impact of food production and processing. As a result of well-planned learning children and young people should develop a better understanding about the link between diet and mental, emotional and social wellbeing as well as the role of food choice on their ability to learn.

'This (school) term sees us needing to harvest our crops at school. The courgettes have turned into marrows and the broad beans are huge. The potatoes this year didn't make it and weeds took over. However, the children are learning and we might not have courgette soup but we can certainly learn to bake the marrows! Curriculum for Excellence sometimes has to be about exploring and discovering and all this through a few seeds in a school garden.'

Primary School Headteacher

Did you know … that the Food for Thought poster provides a snapshot of ideas around learning about food? See

Key Points

Making food part of the curriculum

'Health and wellbeing is central to our curriculum, without this children in our schools would not be in the right place to learn, so outdoor education, health and wellbeing, sustainability and food education are all stepping stones to our learners achieving in other core curricular areas.'

Primary School Headteacher

All schools already include learning in food and health in their programmes and courses for health and wellbeing. Where this works well teachers are skilled in making logical connections across curricular areas and different contexts to consistently reinforce messages around food and health. Teachers can work with a diverse range of partners, including the catering service, to plan and deliver learning which is creative, motivating and engaging. Within schools, partnership working can also support mutually beneficial outcomes for learners. For example putting oily fish on the school menu at the same time as home economics lessons include tastings of oily fish can improve its popularity significantly.

Did you know … girls were eating less confectionery in 2010 compared with 2006?

Partnerships between schools and industry

The Scottish Food and Drink Federation partners schools and industry to develop approaches that use food and drink as the context for learning utilising the expertise of industry to support teachers to deliver realistic experiences in the classroom. In one example high school students worked on a product development challenge, extending their skills in marketing, finance, packaging, scientific analysis and food tasting. Another school worked with a local business to develop a new baby food project which enabled the young people to understand the needs of infants and the type of jobs available in the food and drink industry.

One secondary school teacher said 'From a teacher's perspective, I have found that having a link with a food company made the course more relevant for the pupils as I could relate it to 'real life'.'

Interdisciplinary learning can lead to creative, innovative, inspiring and connected learning which prevents the narrow view of food education as being only about 'healthy eating'. These experiences highlight the importance of food in Scottish culture, health and business. Integral to the planning of these learning experiences must be how these will develop the critical thinking skills to support independence and progress in learning. Visit the resource page [22] for further information and inspiration.

Consider the extent to which children and young people:

  • explore food culture, history and traditions in examining attitudes and values to food and drink;
  • investigate the impact of science and technological developments on the food and drink industry;
  • analyse environmental and sustainability aspects of food production;
  • consider the politics of food through, for example, Scotland's national policy for food and drink, or food imports and exports, or global challenges for the food system;
  • learn about the impact of food and drink choices on health and wellbeing, on the economy, on the health service, or on the school food service;
  • share and apply what they learn by leading food and drink activities in their school, centre or community; and
  • learn about the needs of different groups in society.

Did you know … that Curriculum for Excellence health and wellbeing experiences and outcomes include 'By taking part in practical food activities and taking account of current healthy eating advice, I can prepare healthy foods to meet identified needs'? HWB 3-30a

Curriculum for Excellence

Experiences and Outcomes provide opportunities for children and young people to explore and appreciate the diverse needs of people through food.

'I am developing my understanding of the nutritional needs of people who have different conditions and requirements.'
HWB 3-31a, Curriculum for Excellence

'Through explanation and discussion, I can understand that food practices and preferences are influenced by factors such as food sources, finance, culture and religion.'
HWB 2-34a, Curriculum for Excellence

The view from the classroom

School inspection evidence indicates that children and young people understand public health messages. The Children in Scotland research shows that they talk confidently about food and its relationship with wider health and wellbeing.

'You would have more energy'….. if you eat a balanced diet.'

'You would be fit'…….. if you lead a healthy lifestyle.'

'You could become ill'…….. if you don't take a holistic approach to your health.'

'We get the point about healthy eating.'

'You need fruit and veg so your body gets all the vitamins it needs.'

'If you didn't (eat healthily) you wouldn't have strong bones.'

Did you know … that starchy foods are an important part of a healthy diet, and every school lunch should contain at least one serving of starchy food?

But in the research children asked for some more specific information.

'Tell us what is in junk food.'

'Show me the consequences of my eating habits.'

Practitioners need to engage with children and young people to ensure that learning reflects the lives they lead and meets their needs. The Children in Scotland research confirms that children and young people want to understand more about the nutritional regulations applied to school food and why school food is intentionally different from food on the high street, as well as to have more of a say about school food. A strong message from children and young people here is:

'Trust us to help, we are capable.'

'Let us become part of the service we use.'

Involving children and young people in the process of exploring, analysing, researching and resolving issues around food and choices can help develop a range of important skills. This approach encourages a degree of ownership and pride in the catering service and responsibility for their dietary choices.

How do learning experiences offer children and young people exciting and challenging opportunities for them to explore current food and health issues which interest them?

Participation in International School Meals Day [23] gives teaching and catering staff a chance to work together on a common project, providing an opportunity for learning and development involving parents and the wider community, and perhaps even other countries.

Raising the profile of healthy eating using a cross-curricular project

A popular health and wellbeing project was designed to raise the profile of healthy eating in a secondary school through S3 pupils working with school catering staff.

Young people:

  • Completed a certificated Basic Food Hygiene Course
  • Undertook a school survey using 'survey monkey' to seek views on favourite foods
  • Planned menus and assessed nutritional content
  • Trained alongside catering staff in the kitchen
  • Organised over a 5-week period to plan, publicise, prepare, cook and serve the menus to the whole school

'Overall, it was a hugely popular and successful initiative for the young people and for the whole school. It certainly raised the profile of healthy eating and the canteen, and promoted the value of good food.'

Secondary School Headteacher

Day-to-day practices in schools - such as coming together at snack time, tasting and trying new foods or enjoying a meal - can support children and young people to develop a positive attitude towards, and a good relationship with, food.

Did you know … the Scottish Government funded Food Education Programme has supported 1,240 school projects?

Working together to support learning

Many schools, in pursuit of a whole school approach, have worked with school catering services to strengthen connections between learning, food and health, lunchtime food provision and the choices children and young people make. The school kitchen and dining room are valuable resources for learning and teaching and along with catering staff represent a considerable investment by the local authority. They can make significant contributions to curricular activity. For example; the skills and expertise of catering staff, or the data generated by school meals, can make a positive contribution to learning around literacy and numeracy; the school kitchen can support home economics, food technology or hospitality courses or host work placements for young people; skilled catering staff can join children in classes to share their expertise about school food and health; and the produce from a school garden can be prepared and cooked by catering staff for children to taste. School kitchens and gardens are safe places to work and learn and with goodwill and some adjustment they can become a great teaching resource for active learning.


School kitchens, dining rooms and gardens present too many obstacles to be used as learning resources.

Myth Buster

Through a creative, proactive and collaborative approach which identifies and controls risks, obstacles can be overcome.

How do you make use of the dining experience as a context for learning?

Did you know … the Scottish Government funded Food Education Programme has delivered more than 135,000 individual opportunities for pupils to learn through food education projects?

Practical learning opportunities

Within Curriculum for Excellence the development of practical food skills is a key area of learning for children and young people. The quality of the experiences and opportunities for practical food work varies greatly and will depend on the facilities available, the capacity of staff to deliver and the time available. Creative approaches can overcome these and other barriers.

In the early stages many children learn basic skills in food hygiene and the safe use of knives. Close liaison with secondary school Home Economics departments, and a cluster approach to sharing resources between schools have been effective in ensuring a consistent approach through early, primary and secondary stages.

Practical kitchen work experience in primary schools

'We run a programme for primary pupils to carry out work experience in the school kitchen. We initially tried it in one school with four primary 7 pupils assisting in the kitchen one day per week for 5 weeks. The initiative was so successful that we now give all the children the opportunity to assist and we are rolling it out to other schools.

'There are certainly issues with using kitchens and dining rooms as learning resources, particularly around health and safety issues, however, there are ways to effectively control risks. Our programme did not commence until it had full support from parents and also our Health and Safety and Environmental Health colleagues.'

Catering Manager

Did you know … the Scottish Government funded Food Education Programme has seen over 8,000 primary and secondary school pupils visit food and drink industry related premises?

With careful planning, outdoor settings can be accessible to all and are being used effectively to teach children and young people how to plant and grow food, cook over open fires and produce meals from seasonal foods sourced locally.

Many schools report a range of benefits gained as a result of involvement in practical food growing projects including enhanced community relations and creating partnerships between schools and food businesses. For further details on how your school can contact organisations keen to partner schools visit the resource page. [24]

Involving parents and families

The involvement of parents and families in supporting activity around food and health is essential. By working with them, schools can develop approaches to food education which are inclusive and reflect the diversity of the school community. By engaging parent and family support for food and health activity and involving them in decisions about school food across the school day (including lunches, snacks, tuck shops) learning can be reinforced at home.

'The parents were naturally a part of the collegiate consultation process when we were developing our whole school approach to health and wellbeing and to food education.'

Primary School Headteacher

Who is involved in planning, delivering and evaluating the impact of food education in your school or centre?


Email: Lynne Carter,

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