10/02/2005

School dinner standards back on the menu

The government has placed school dinners back on the agenda today, launching a campaign to improve the quality of meals in British schools.

Education and Skills Secretary, Ruth Kelly, announced that minimum health specifications for processed foods – such as beefburgers, sausages and cakes – will be introduced in schools from September in order to help reduce fat, sugar and salt contents. She also announced plans to establish a new school food trust, to offer independent support and advice.

Mrs Kelly also urged parents to get involved in the campaign by examining menus and helping to decide what should be served. She said: "Parents want to know that when children are eating school meals they are getting the quality of what they would serve at home. I want parents to become more involved in schools, not only in the quality of education, but in everything that their child experiences within the school gates – including what they eat."

These new proposals follow measures laid out in last November's Public Health White Paper, which included the introduction of a new school caterers' qualification to help them promote healthy food and plans to include healthy eating as part of education watchdog, Ofsted's inspection process. A series of nutrient-based minimum standards is also set to be introduced for school meals in September 2006.

Secretary of State for Health, John Reid, said: "Children's health must come first. We want to make sure that children have access to healthy diets, both in and out of school. Our Public Health White Paper takes action to tackle childhood obesity not only through providing healthier food during the school day, but by giving people the information and support they need to make healthy choices – for themselves and their children."

Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Phil Willis, said that he was "delighted" at the new proposals, but warned that they were not enough to tackle the problem of childhood obesity in Britain.

He said: "This measure addresses only one half of the 'energy in, energy out' equation. The government should establish a requirement for physical activity by all children within the school day, not simply in after school clubs."

Mr Willis also said that targeting processed foods was not enough. He said: "Schools need to provide well-balanced meals, rich in fruit and vegetables, which are also attractive to young children. That is the challenge we must meet if we are to change the eating habits of a generation."

However, Conservative Shadow Education Secretary, Tim Collins, branded the scheme a "parody".

He said: "Labour won't let you choose your child's school, but they want you to join a committee to discuss their school dinners."

(KMcA/SP)

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