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Eat, drink and be healthy;Document of the week;The week in education;Briefing;News amp; Opinion

Diane Spencer on the new nutritional standards for school meals, now out for consultation THE Government has set nutritional standards for school meals for the first time since they were scrapped by the Conservative government in 1980, fulfilling a Labour party election pledge.

Tthe regulations are based on The Balance of Good Health, the Health Education Authority's guidelines. Following consultations they will be phased in from next September. This report recommended a balanced diet based on five food groups: starchy foods; fruit and vegetables; milk and dairy products; meat, fish and alternative protein such as eggs, nuts and beans; and foods containing fat and sugar.

Children must be offered a higher proportion of fruit, vegetables and starchy food and a limit of 10 to 15 per cent of fat and sugary food.

For all age groups, chips and roast potatoes must not be on the menu more than three times a week, cheese not served instead of meat or fish more than twice, and baked beans only once a week on the grounds that, unlike most vegetables, they contain no vitamin C. Water must be offered as an alternative to sugary drinks.

Under-fives should be given food which gives them plenty of energy and the nutrients for proper growth and development, but caterers will not have to adhere to the proportions from the food groups given in The Balance of Good Health.

Primary pupils should have some choice, but cafeteria-style meals are not considered appropriate for this age group. Nutritional standards should maintain energy levels, calcium, vitamins A and C, increase iron content and amounts of fruit and vegetables, but reduce the amount of fat.

At secondary school, pupils have more choice, although they must be offered a balanced selection including fruit, vegetables and salad, milk and a dairy product, meat, fish or an alternative source of protein.

The document provides guidance for caterers, described as "prescriptive and patronising" by the Local Authority Caterers' Association at the House of

Commons education select

committee hearing last week.

These professionals are reminded that thick-cut chips absorb less fat than thin ones; steaming vegetables helps retain nutrients; and they should always pre-heat the oven before baking.

The guidelines recommend that schools set up a committee involving catering officers, suppliers, the head, the community dietician, and parents, to monitor nutritional standards and the success of the meals service against the checklist in the regulations. Pupils should be encouraged to say what they like or dislike about their lunches, with older ones taking part in a survey.

The Government would like to introduce nutritional standards for under-fives and secondary schools on September 1, 2000 with primary schools coming into line the following year.

Responses are invited by January 15, 2000 and should be sent to Lorraine Morris, Department for Education and Employment, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT. Telephone 0171 925 6310, fax 0171 925 5844; e-mail:


Breads,cereals and other starchy food:

* Chips, fried or roast potatoes no more than three times a week

Rice and pasta at least once a week

Milk and dairy products:

* Must be part of every meal, but cheese as a main course no more than twice a week

Fruit, vegetables and salad:

* Every meal must contain at least one portion from this group; fresh or tinned fruit at least twice a week; fruit in a desert every day

Meat, fish and alternative sources of protein

* Fish at least once a week

* Red meat based meals at least twice, but no more than three times a week

Foods containing fat and sugar

* They should form in total no more than 10 per cent (or 15 per cent) by raw weight of the total food on offer that week

Drinking water must be provided every day as a refreshing alternative to sugary drinks.

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