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Agenda

JOAN SALLIS Answers your questions

I believe we are legally responsible for monitoring the nutritional standards of school meals. Is this really possible? Most schools have little control over those who provide the meals, and even less opportunity to make sure that what is requested actually happens. And will children eat healthy foods even if they are on offer?

I too find it a bit strange that a government which is trying to remove important tasks like teacher appointments and dismissals from governors on the grounds that we are overworked, manages to impose so many detailed and sometimes unrealistic requirements. But I do think that governors should be concerned about the school's contribution to the health of its pupils - both directly and through teaching about good eating habits.

We all know that unhealthy food has a fatal attraction for children, but more of this than we sometimes allow for is due to commercial conditioning combined with the pressures on homes. There are many healthy options which children would eat given a chance.

Unless schools do their own catering they are limited - but not without influence - in their relations with contractors. But many are happy to accept guidance on the kinds of menus wanted.

We can't personally check up on what is offered five days a week, 40 weeks a year, but a reasonable system of monitoring is possible.

First, we can ask for details of take-up and regular sample menus (and prices); make sure that high-fat, sweet and additive-rich foods and drinks don't play too big a part; that choices always include fresh vegetables and fruit, pasta, bread, soup, good sandwiches; and that children are told something appropriate to age about healthy food.

We can get plenty of consumer comment from those who eat the meals - children and staff - organised into surveys, items on school council agendas and parent opinion requests.

'The TES' welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum. We aim to provide information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals

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