Minimum standards for school food announced

The government’s advisory panel has announced tough nutritional standards for school meals.

The Independent School Meals Review Panel’s report, published on Monday, stipulated that, by September 2006, school lunches should provide not less than two portions of fruit and vegetables per child per day; oily fish on a regular basis and easy access to fresh drinking water.

The panel also said that stringent nutrient-based standards, stipulating that essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals should be required in all primary school meals by no later than 2008 and in secondary school meals by no later than 2009.

The panel also said that children’s food choices should be “controlled” to ensure that they could not “opt out” of eating healthy food.

The new standards would effectively ban low quality foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar and reformed or reconstituted foods made from ‘meat slurry’.

The move follows last week’s announcement that chocolate, crisps and sugary fizzy drinks would be banned from school vending machines.

There will be a 13-week consultation period on the panel’s specifications.

Suzi Leather, Chair of the School Meals Review Panel, said: “School meals are an essential public service, no less important today than when they were introduced at the beginning of the last century.

“All school food should be good food. School meals should be an important source of nutrition for children, especially those from low-income households.

“By redressing the current imbalance in children’s diets, schools can contribute towards a reduction in childhood obesity and tooth decay and, in the longer term, reduce the likelihood of our children suffering from chronic diseases later in life.”

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly welcomed the publication of the report and announced that the government was considering placing “greater emphasis” on teaching 11 – 14-year-olds practical cooking skills, as well as teaching them about diet, nutrition, food safety & hygiene, practical food preparation and cooking.

The government has also launched a national audit of school food provision, due to begin next week, which will cover issues such as how much is being spent on school meals ingredients, how they are provided, whether children get hot or cold meals and the percentage of pupils currently buying school meals.

Mrs Kelly said that the government had a “golden opportunity” to make a real difference to a service, which had “suffered from decades of neglect”. She said: “The scale of the challenge is huge, but we must act now to reverse the decline. Schools tell me they are making changes now, and we know that local authorities are already putting serious plans in place to use our extra funding to improve their schools’ food.”


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