Education Ministry Striving to Improve Quality of School Food

During the next school year, the Education Ministry, in cooperation with dieticians, will advise school canteen operators on improving the nutritional quality of the food offered to middle- and high-school students. The goal of the project is to "switch from deep-fried chicken cutlets to grilled, from french fries in pita to a healthier sandwich, from sweetened drinks to water and natural juices," explains the Supervisor for School Health in the Education Ministry, Irit Livne. The student council and students' parents will help create the new menus.

Livne cites a four-year-old national survey that found that about 12 percent of Israeli teens aged 13 to 17 were overweight and an additional 5 percent were classified as obese. In two other studies, of 400 kindergartners, 25 percent of the participants were found to be overweight.

The Association for Public Health Services is responsible for monitoring the height and weight of students and notifying parents in the event of a deviation from the norm. Livne, however, believes that this is not enough. "It's unacceptable to make do with providing information only. Nutrition education must be combined with tangible, visible changes on the part of the educational staff and the parents," Livne said. The changes start as early as kindergarten, for example with the teachers taking note of the kind of sandwiches the children bring from home, or by monitoring the nutritional composition of the meals served to students in the hot lunch program that in the last school year fed tens of thousands of students.

The main Education Ministry nutritional education program is Tafur Alay ("made for me"), which operated in about 500 kindergartens and 800 elementary schools last year. The program includes training kindergarten teachers about the importance of eating a good breakfast and about healthy sandwiches for the morning break as well as encouraging the children to engage regularly in physical activity. "The struggle against overweight demands the involvement of every element, not just parents and teachers but also the manufacturers and the advertisers," Livne said.