United Co-operatives is living up to its image as a ‘community retailer’ with an initiative to get children to eat a healthy breakfast.

United Co-op’s member relations manager, Lisa Moss, oozes pride at the society’s latest achievement as healthy eating champion to primary school children in its trading catchment.

The Co-op came up with the idea of a breakfast club, aimed at low - performing schools, to give the
children a healthy start to the day. The society would supply all food and utensils free of charge in an initial six week pilot.

With the combined help of the local education authority (LEA) and the Food Advisory Commission, a suitable school and menu were chosen. The inaugural club was launched on June 15 at Nutgrove Methodist Aided Primary School in St Helens, Merseyside, and has gone down a real treat with the 4-11 year olds at the school.

The breakfast menu includes cereal, toast, fruit and fruit juice from 7.45-8.45am every morning. The local United Co-op store at Elephant Lane supplied the food and two or three Co-op volunteers turned up each day to lend a helping hand.

Moss explains: “It’s part of the society’s strategy to be involved with schools and young people, particularly in the communities in which we trade, so money was allocated to this project. The breakfast club is a chance for us to make a real difference in the community. We made the decision to stick with primary schools because we saw the 4-11 year old age group as more receptive to changing their diet than older children.”

But there’s more to the project than simply offering a healthy breakfast; it’s as much about educating
children as it is providing a nourishing start to the day. Moss explains: “Games and activities were
organised to engage the children once they’d finished their breakfast. We taught them about fair trade, for example, and played music that they could dance to. The children were, and still are, really enthusiastic about the club and get really involved. Two children each day pour out the juice for the others and they also clear up - they’re almost disappointed that we show up to help; they really want to do it all themselves.”

If a child attends the club every day for a week they get a ‘fruit character’ sticker as a reward, which they all get excited about.

The jury is out as to whether the breakfast club will change the children’s, and their parents’, attitude to healthy eating in general. Dietary changes are being monitored, post-pilot, and parents have been issued with a questionnaire to see whether the club has affected their shopping baskets.

Moss adds: “We’ve given 100 parents a £5 voucher redeemable at the Elephant Lane store, and we’ll be monitoring sales.” Either way, the children’s awareness has certainly been enhanced.

According to Moss, the school headmaster, Ian Rimmer, has instilled a healthy lifestyle policy at the school and healthy eating and exercise are actively encouraged. In fact, Rimmer had wanted to
introduce a breakfast club for some time but didn’t have the funds to implement it.

He has much praise for the club and what it’s achieved. “As a result of the club, Nutgrove has been able to offer the very highest quality and widest possible choice of breakfast. An average of 50 children per day have wanted to start their day in style and arrived at school early to be part of the breakfast community.”

Rimmer adds: “The benefits of the club have been numerous and wide-reaching. As well as having access to a healthy breakfast, the children have also had the opportunity to spend quality time with their fellow pupils and staff. They’ve forged strong
relationships and developed their social skills.”

Fortunately for the school, the Co-op has been lobbying the LEA to secure ongoing funding for the club. Moss says: “The school has the financial backing to keep the club open until Christmas but we want to help it get long-term support.”

Moss is determined to get part-funding from the LEA to extend the breakfast club idea to other needy schools in the area. “The thing is the club can’t be a chargeable service because it would then exclude certain children and therefore defeat the object.”

The Co-op is pushing ahead with new clubs. One is due to start up at a school in Blackburn on September 5 and a further three schools will have clubs by the end of the year.

CHILDREN'S FEEDBACK
Their responses to the question:
“What will you be telling your parent/guardian about the breakfast club?”

“Good fun; nice food”

“It’s a must”

“It’s fantastic”

Shreddies seemed the most popular breakfast cereal, while grapes were the most popular fruit, and apple the most popular fruit juice.

PARENT'S VIEWS:

“My son had fun with his friends and he ate toast, which he won’t eat at home”

“My daughter enjoys the breakfast club as it encourages her to eat healthily in the morning because other children are around her”

“My son has more get up and go in the morning; he seems more confident in himself”

“My son has been going to bed early so he can go to the breakfast club at 7.45am”

“My daughter is now eating more for her breakfast; before she often didn’t eat anything”

“My children have made a lot more friends and they now tend to eat more sensibly and much more healthily than before.”

“They get up earlier and are more prepared in the morning”

“There’s a calmer atmosphere in advance of the school day and they enjoy going”

“They enjoy choosing their own breakfast and playing before school starts”

“My daughter likes going to the breakfast club because she can mix with other children older than her; she likes to play and she likes the fruit she can have for breakfast”

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