In this series, we speak to dynamic voices in the food industry, showcasing individuals who are embracing new responsibilities and unveiling their visions for the sector.
School Food Matters is a charity with a mission to improve school children’s’ access to healthy, sustainable food. But it doesn’t stop there, it also endeavours teach children about the food they are eating through fully funded food education programmes.
In our latest instalment of “Stepping up to the plate”, New Food speaks to Antonia Braun who has recently taken on the role of Project Coordinator at School Food Matters. Sharing the ins and outs of her new role and Braun explains why she is committed to campaigning for high nutrition standards for all children, wherever they grow up in the UK,
Who are you and what is your new role?
My name is Antonia Braun and I have recently started a new role as Project Coordinator at School Food Matters, looking after our Healthy Zones project in Tower Hamlets and Westminster, and overseeing the roll out of the programme to another borough. I previously worked as Project Officer for Healthy Zones in Southwark & Lambeth.
What originally made you want to work for School Food Matters?
I have been an avid follower of School Food Matters on Twitter for a few years as reducing child food poverty is an issue very close to my heart. I think the Healthy Zones programme is so powerful, and using a personalised approach to empower schools and teaching them the necessary skills within their budgetary constraints is exactly what is needed to support sustainable and lasting change.
Nutrition is a vital part of children’s physical and mental development and I believe each child should have access to balanced and healthy nutrition, and school food plays a big part in that.
What does being a Project Coordinator at SFM entail?
My role involves shaping and managing the Healthy Zones project in Tower Hamlets and Westminster as well as overseeing the launch of Healthy Zones in a new borough. Day-to-day, I build and maintain relationships with teachers, kitchen teams, breakfast and after school club staff and others in the school community. I also collaborate with local councils and other organisations that work with schools in my area.
While I line manage one of our project officers I do still go in and deliver our project as well, supporting schools in creating a healthy school food environment as well as helping them set up or improve the menus at their breakfast and afterschool clubs.
Every day looks different, and I enjoy the variety my job brings. A lot of my job is thinking outside the box and helping schools solve their problems creatively. We pride ourselves in offering bespoke support which means what I do in each school can also differ greatly and I love empowering staff and students to make positive changes in their schools.
Since joining the non-profit organisation, what are some things you have worked on that have really stood out to you?
While I have had the opportunity to get involved with lots of the great food education programmes we run here at School Food Matters, my main focus has always been the Healthy Zones project. Working with lots of different schools over the years has highlighted to me that the success of a school kitchen is down to the people who work there. Some of the most delicious and healthy school food I have had has been prepared by kitchen teams that work collaboratively and who feel like they are part of the school community.
It’s passionate head chefs who get the kids excited about healthy foods which creates an environment where they are excited to try new things. Another thing that really stood out to me is the incredible impact even having a simple breakfast can have on students’ ability to focus and their academic performance. I’m a big believer in breakfast being one of the most important meals of the day. The schools I’ve supported in setting up a breakfast club have proven this, reporting that children are now more focused and well-behaved in class
Why is School Food Matters so important in campaigning for children in the UK to have access to nutritious school food?
School Food Matters started with a mother on a mission to transform the disappointing food at her children’s school, but it soon became clear that there was an opportunity to do something bigger. Over the last 16 years, we have been campaigning to improve children’s access to healthy, sustainable food during their time at school.
Quality nutrition is crucial for children’s health and development, and school food is currently the best option in providing that. We know, for example, that only 1.6 percent of packed lunches meet the same nutritional standards, given that most packed lunches would contain things like cold sandwiches and crisps.
All primary school children in London to receive free school meals
Sadly, we also see that too many children are currently missing out on the nutrition they need to thrive. Almost one million children living in poverty in England are not eligible for free school meals due to the harsh £7,400/year household income threshold. Extending access to all children would fix that unacceptable reality overnight. At the same time, we’d be investing in our next generation who would, as analysis has shown, do better in exams, earn more in their careers and become healthier adults – all benefiting our economy.
Unsurprisingly, in areas where school food for all has been implemented, school food uptake has shot up. So, this is also an unrivalled opportunity to shield children from the unhealthy takeaways found on the high streets.
How far is there still to go in making sure the next generation is fed in a way that is both healthy and sustainable at school?
We have seen a significant amount of improvement in school food over the years, particularly in the last decade, which has led to an increase in uptake. Since 2015, the School Food Standards have been mandatory in all schools, with the aim of ensuring that children don’t get offered unhealthy food and can eat well.
However, it could be better. We continue to campaign for those standards to be upgraded and for proper monitoring and accountability to ensure all children will be getting quality nutrition, wherever they grow up. The work I’ve been doing as part of the Healthy Zones team has also focused on helping schools create a food environment that puts young people’s health centre stage.
Are there any food-related news stories that have stood out to you in recent months?
I recently read an article that raised concerns about junk food companies manipulating children on social media into promoting their products for them among friends through interactive games and offers. Our Healthy Zones work is part of a wider programme, run by Impact on Urban Health, which focuses on creating a healthier environment both inside and outside of school gates. Junk food advertising is one of the forces we’re working against, as it encourages children to bring unhealthy food into school or to buy those products on the way home. That’s why our work in schools revolves around encouraging children to try healthy food they may never have had before and showing them that eating healthily can be delicious and is achievable.
It’s also been quite promising to see stories of local authorities taking action by banning new takeaways from opening near schools, recognising the need for a healthier environment. And an increasing number of councils are seeing the value of banning junk food ads on our high streets, which is great.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in the food industry overnight, what would it be?
I would like to see every child have delicious and nutritious school food, fully funded, no matter where they grow up.
Antonia Braun is a Project Coordinator at charity School Food Matters. She is a registered associate nutritionist with a BSc in Food Science and Business, an MSc in Sports Nutrition and a Diploma in Plant-Based Culinary Skills. She has over 10 years’ experience working for a variety of charities and other organisations with a focus on improving children’s health and wellbeing all over the world.