Not that long ago, school lunches were little more than unhealthy portions of meat and grains. Fruit and vegetables were no more than an afterthought. But then concerned parents and educators in places such as the United States began to rethink school lunches. Realising that it has the power to transform eating habits in children, campaigns called for a revolution in the canteen. Such a transformation is gravely needed in our schools.

But this is only one part of the battle. Fast-food establishments are widely popular, convenient and cheap. They are also ridiculously unhealthy. To combat the allure of fast food, children need to learn about healthy living from an early age. They must form strong habits that will withstand the temptation of unhealthy food later in life. While this process should begin at home with instruction from parents, school lunches are a vital vehicle for teaching the virtues of healthy eating.

Think about it. Eating habits take hold much more rapidly in social situations. When kids are eating healthy food with their friends at schools, the stigma of having, say, fruit instead of French fries loses its veneer. If carried out correctly, the school canteen is the right place to make healthy eating, well, cool. And once something is considered cool by children, it has a much greater chance of becoming part of their daily routines.

The crux is in implementation. A forceful hand by schools runs the risk of children rejecting healthy food. Perhaps the best way forward is to borrow from the play book of fast-food chains. These companies have spent billions of dollars branding their food as cool or part of a fun lifestyle. Healthier foods, by contrast, have the connotation of being boring. With a campaign that brands healthy school lunches as exciting and interesting, children will start to learn the right eating habits. It is a slow process but what better place to start then at the school canteen.