Tough new standards to boost the quality of food served to children will be introduced in secondary and special schools this September.
Salty, fatty and sugary lunches and snacks will be scrapped a year after new rules on food were enforced in primaries. Special schools have been given more time to prepare because of their circumstances.
Cooks must now meet 14 nutritional standards, which campaigners say could have big social benefits.
As well as helping those who find the canteen intimidating - such as autistic pupils - schools must make sure all pupils can take advantage of the social side of lunch breaks. This includes making sure they get to sit together and are able to use technology to choose from a menu.
"Children have complex needs, but they still need a healthy diet," said Michael Nelson, director of research and nutrition at the School Food Trust. "Special schools face problems of how to get food to the pupils: for example, many won't be able to use a serving counter or make individual choices, and we want staff to be able to overcome these problems."
The guidelines were trialled in six pilot schools in London, Buckinghamshire and Norfolk, and produced in conjunction with the NHS.
In their conclusions, it was recommended that one member of the senior management team should have responsibility for food and for writing a formal school policy.
At the Livity School, a special school in south London, council officers were concerned about a lack of social interaction at lunchtimes. Catering staff were trained to use sign language and to introduce pictures to help children choose food, as well as voice buttons so that pupils could hear what was on the menu.
Put a Velcro board in classrooms and display pictures of the day's menu so pupils can think about what they want to eat.
- Put a display board with the daily menu in the dining hall that can be seen by pupils when queuing.
- Colour-code the menu around food types so pupils have a clear way to choose a balanced meal.
- Display food where it can be seen as this will help pupils to choose.
- Use familiar language on the menu and encourage pupils to be independent in making their own food choices.
- Some pupils may benefit from a quieter environment at lunchtime - try to identify a suitable area close to the dining area.
- Train lunchtime assistants to support pupils with eating and drinking, including suitable methods to deal with pupils' challenging behaviour.