How to make school Christmas dinner inclusive


School dinners have changed a lot in recent years, and many attribute that to one person: TV chief Jamie Oliver.

It has now been over 15 years since he launched his Feed Me Better campaign, which in 2005 aimed to transform the way schools view the food they serve their students.

The campaign, along with the TV show that sparked it – Channel 4’s Jamie’s School Dinners – ended Turkish Twizzlers in canteens and led then-Prime Minister Tony Blair to pledge to donate £ 280million to improve school dinners for children (see box below).

But Oliver wasn’t the only one working hard for change. In the years that followed, teachers and leaders began to pay more attention not only to the nutritional content of the foods served, but also to the social and cultural benefits of eating together.

At this time of year, there is a clear opportunity to maximize these perks: Christmas dinner at school. But how do you make it work for students of all cultures and backgrounds? How to make it inclusive, balanced and an event to bring together the whole school?

Here, three leaders provide insight into how the festive celebrations play out in their schools.

“Not all of our families have a dining table”

Melody Berthoud is Principal of South Norwood Primary School in London, which is part of the Pioneer Academy

We serve a local community that includes a dynamic range of backgrounds. Inclusiveness is at the heart of everything we do, and our Christmas dinner is no different.

In addition to a Christmas lunch for the whole school during the school day, we also have a Christmas dinner in the evening after school. The Christmas Family Meal is something happening at every Pioneer Academy Trusted School.

Everyone is invited: Children can bring as many family members as they want, and we invite all of our staff, governors, elected officials and our MP. This year we were expecting 250 people, but had to cancel due to Covid restrictions. Next year, we hope that the event can run smoothly.

Children make table decorations in class. We set the table correctly with crackers, as not all of our families have a dining table, or they may not be used to sitting together as a family.

As staff, we do everything from serving to cuddly babies so parents can eat their food while it is still warm and spend time together.

We serve the traditional Christmas dinner, as well as a vegetarian option. For some of our guests who are new to the UK this is a chance to see how the Brits celebrate Christmas. For others, it’s a great opportunity to feel part of the school community.

People don’t see it as a religious event – it’s a celebration. Each family leaves with a basket of gifts – things from movie night supplies to a Chinese meal set – all of which have been donated. Santa Claus makes his appearance and gives a gift to each child. It really is the best evening of the school year.

“It’s not just about shooting crackers”

Gemma Hargreaves is Deputy Director in Birmingham

In our school, our inclusiveness is not centered on the food offered (although there are vegetarian and vegan options), but on the dining experience.

We have a diverse student body and we see Christmas dinner as a way to bring everyone together for a time of true celebration. We incorporate the practices of a Sikh langar into our meal: traditionally, it is when a meal is served free of charge to members of the public, regardless of religion, caste, sex, economic status or origin. ethnic.

A langar is about feeding anyone in need and bringing energy and purpose. So, rather than letting students rush food, as they often do, it’s about taking the time and being mindful, and breaking bread together.

It’s not just about having crackers on the table; it’s about what brings us together as a community. Our teachers eat with the students, and we do it in two sessions on the same day, to bring together as many people as possible. We dedicate time and assemblies to learning the Sikh language in the weeks leading up to dinner, so that children understand the importance of fostering feelings of oneness and belonging throughout this meal.

Everyone will have a traditional Christmas dinner because we find that in fact our students enjoy the turkey (or the meat substitute), the roasted potatoes and all the toppings because it is not something they want to eat. ‘they all get at home. So while the food is no different, the feel and the culture will be.

“Students are delighted to celebrate with their peers”

Greg Williams is Principal Principal at Rockwood Academy, Birmingham

Our school is located in East Birmingham and 95% of our students are Muslim.

Throughout the school year, we celebrate many key religious holidays – for example, Eid, Diwali, and Passover – with a community meal. It is very important to me that our academy is inclusive and to achieve this we educate our students about the different religions and make sure they understand why these festivals are so special in the world. While they may not recognize traditions from a religious perspective, they are happy to celebrate with their peers.

This year we are making one of our venues as ‘Christmas’ as possible; we go all out on decorations, play Christmas music, and have crackers for everyone.

We have a traditional Christmas dinner for our students, but all of our meat is halal, and we also have a vegan and vegetarian option. If students prefer, they can choose a more low-key meal, such as pizza and salad or a jacket potato.

For those who do not want to participate, we also have a second dining room, which we do not decorate. However, while it is important to give children the opportunity to withdraw from the festivities, the majority choose to be fully engaged. Usually our students want to enjoy the event, be with their friends and experience Christmas and other religious holidays.


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