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My experience of working alongside school stakeholders to co-design school food initiatives

Maria Bryant – CONNECTS-Food project lead

I’m always amazed with how generous people are in relation to their commitment to improving the

school food environment. At the beginning of the CONNECTS-Food project, we put out feelers for

people to support us – providing their experience and expertise with different aspects of school food

– and had an amazing response. We know that many schools do not yet prioritise school food given

the back drop of other demands; however, there is a strong contingency of those who are fully

dedicated to improving school food environments. These people go over and above, with a goal to

‘win hearts and minds’ and put food at the top of their priorities.

Through the process, we learnt that food is not just about ‘school meals’ (though these remain

central), but a means to equipped children for a strong and healthy life ahead. And school food

brings people together, through community growing (and eating) projects, it provides a lifeline for

many children and their families and is an excellent tool to teach children about science, geography,

maths and many other subjects. Importantly, schools provide a platform to ensure that children

grow up having a positive relationship with food for the rest of their lives.

We spoke to over 160 stakeholders during the development of our school food systems map. This

means that we now have an excellent understanding of all the factors that influence child food

choice across a school day and how they relate to each other. Through this, we have been able to

identify opportunities to influence positive change. Stakeholders gave up their time to support this,

often out of work hours, to ensure that this was meaningful and reflected real life scenarios. Many

of them also went on to offer more of their time, passion and expertise; joining our co-design team

to develop the CONNECTS-Food resource. Not only does this mean that we have successfully

achieved our project targets, more importantly, it means that we have produced something that has

the best chance of making a difference – providing feasible resources for busy schools to adopt

whole school approaches to food – and potentially improving the lives of children for generations to


I am truly grateful to the many people who have supported this work. We will endeavour to share

the resource as wide as possible to ensure that many schools and children can freely benefit. And,

our stakeholders have stirred a passion within me to drive forward this agenda, support advocacy

and lend a hand in their hour of need.

Find out more about the CONNECTS Food team

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