Parents Consulted On School Meal Proposals

Parents of school children are being urged to engage with a Department for Education consultation on proposals to upgrade the nutritional value of food provided in grant-aided schools.

Sinn Fein's Karen Mullan encouraged participation in the consultation, which runs until the end of March, to avoid the issue of "holiday hunger".

The Nutritional Standards for School Lunches and Other Food and Drinks in Schools were first set in 2007 in line with government guidance on healthy eating at the time.

Over the last 12 years, however, expert advice on what makes a healthy diet has evolved.

Education Minister Peter Weir said: "Evidence and research has shown that we should eat more fruit, vegetables and dietary fibre whilst reducing the amount of sugar, salt, fat and processed meats. It is important that we update the existing Nutritional Standards to ensure that all food provided in schools is in keeping with up-to-date government guidance on healthy eating.
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"The benefits of a healthy diet are well known and can not only help maintain a healthy weight but can reduce the risk of ill-health including diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet can have a critical role in cognitive development and can help improve the mental wellbeing of children and young people by increasing self-esteem and improving mood."

Foyle MLA Karen Mullan advised parents to offer their responses and help schools develop an affordable and nutritious menu for their children.

"Children with access to a varied and wholesome diet perform better in school than their peers who unfortunately don't have access to the same nutritional diet," the party's spokesperson on education said.

"When it comes to diet it is those from a more disadvantaged background who are less likely to have access to the nutrition they need.

"Sinn Féin will also use this opportunity to again raise the issue of holiday hunger.

"Unfortunately for many families who are entitled to free school meals, the summer holidays can be a difficult period. It's a cliff edge like scenario every year for thousands of families who face increased food costs in the absence of free school meals."

The consultation will run until Friday 27 March and is available online.

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