German Celebrity Chef on School Meals 'Many People Don't Care Enough about Nutrition'

A recent outbreak of illness among German schoolchildren has highlighted the questionable quality of meals served in schools. German TV chef Cornelia Poletto says that one way to improve nutrition is to get parents involved in preparing lunches -- and to teach children what they are eating.

Professional chef Cornelia Poletto: "It is an enormous challenge to provide decent meals for very large numbers of children."

Professional chef Cornelia Poletto: "It is an enormous challenge to provide decent meals for very large numbers of children."

Cornelia Poletto, 41, is a well-known German chef and the mother of a 10-year-old daughter. She owns a restaurant and specialty food shop in Hamburg and appears regularly as a professional chef on television.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Poletto, you have tested many school cafeterias. What experiences have you had in doing so?

Poletto: Very different ones! But I can say this: It is only in places where parents actively volunteer that truly good food is provided.

SPIEGEL: Does it upset you as a professional chef when you find out just what children are being served for lunch?

Poletto: Of course I am serious about making sure that my child gets healthy meals not only at home, but also at school. If something is bad, then you need to react and get together with the teachers and other parents. Of course, even then failure is still possible given how many people just don't care enough about healthy nutrition.

SPIEGEL: For many parents, school lunches are simply too expensive. Will it only be the children of wealthier parents who are provided with quality meals in the future?

Poletto: That doesn't have to be the case. The type of parental volunteering I am talking about is not contingent on the parents' financial status.

SPIEGEL: In many cities, school lunch prices are capped at €2 ($2.60). Is it even possible to serve quality food at that price?

Poletto: I have done that calculation. And, yes, it is possible to serve wonderful, balanced meals for €2 per person. But that's not the problem -- the problem is that you have to add personnel costs to that amount.

SPIEGEL: Why is it proving so difficult to ensure that quality food is provided in schools?

Poletto: It is an enormous challenge to provide decent meals for very large numbers of children -- and I am speaking of hundreds if not thousands. Keeping pre-cooked meals in large quantities warm is both complex and risky. There's no sugar-coating it. The food loses its flavor and just about everything good that is in it. My experience has shown that food is much better in places where a real cook is in place or where parents help out. A professional, for example, wouldn't just turn ground meat into a mediocre hamburger, but would produce something more nutritious.

SPIEGEL: Despite the fact that so many people are preaching how important good school meals are, they are far from becoming a part of everyday reality.

Poletto: It is important. Everyone deserves good food. Healthy nutrition is important for each of us.

SPIEGEL: What has to change in order to guarantee better quality food?

Poletto: It begins with education, particularly among children themselves. We need to teach them about carbohydrates, fat, protein and sugar. And we also need to teach them the rule of thumb that the more they are able to recognize what is in the food they eat, the better off they will be. Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, for example, is much better for them than the typical cafeteria lasagne, which has so much in it that is more or less an indescribable mass.

Interview conducted by Susanne Amann


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