Healthy food - by order

Compulsory nutritional standards for school meals will be introduced next autumn.

Proposed standards, revealed by David Blunkett, the Education Secretary this week, cover food offered at nursery, primary and secondary levels.

For primary schools they specify portions by weight from each of the main food groups and also suggest offering fruit juice every day and fish at least once a week.

At secondary level they emphasise low-calorie foods, suggesting using less saturated fat in cooking and offering low-fat dairy products and alternatives to chips.

Sample menus suggest novelties such as "grilled gladiator beef or vege burgers with carrot spears" and "potato cannon balls", followed by "fighting fit fruit salad".

"Children are becoming more discerning eaters and we want meals to be tasty and enjoyable," a spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said.

Cookery expert Prue Leith joined Charles Clarke, the schools minister and Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, yesterday to launch Ingredients for Success, the discussion paper outlining the proposed new standards yesterday at Sulivan primary school in Fulham, west London. Feedback is due by January 8 and final criteria expected by next autumn.

Local authorities must meet requirements out of existing budgets but the Government did not expect the cost to be onerous, the DFEE spokesman said. "Given that there's no statutory requirement that the meal has to be hot and that they are duty-bound to provide free school meals anyway, we don't see it being an expensive business."

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