Chips and statutes don't mix, MPs say

17th December 1999 at 00:00
GOVERNMENT proposals to ban schools from serving chips more than three times a week have been condemned as unscientific and over-prescriptive by MPs.

Members of the education select committee have recommended that minimum nutritional standards, due to come into force from next September, should not specify which foods children should eat.

Last month, the Government unveiled the first nutritional standards for school meals in 20 years. A balanced diet was recommended for pupils based on five separate "food groups", from starchy foods to milk and dairy products.

Schools would not be able to serve chips or red meat more than three times a week, and baked beans could appear on menus only once a week, said the guidelines, which are currently out for consultation.

But the National Heart Foundation said the standards needed to be more scientifically-grounded - taking into account the precise amounts of fat or sugar in a child's diet, regardless of foodstuff. It was wrong for the Government to enforce rules for each food.

The select committee agreed. Its report concluded: "While we welcome the food group approach as helpful non-technical guidance for lay governors and parents, we are not persuaded that it is a suitable basis for statutory legislation.

"The Government should not be overly-prescriptive in its approach to implementing minimum standards for school lunches."

Schools minister Jacqui Smith said that while the draft guidelines did emphasise food groups rather than individual nutrients, they would be flexible enough for caterers to provide the foods pupils liked to eat. It was not feasible to dictate portions.

The report also recommended that the schools should monitor the nutritional contents of children's packed lunches, and called for research on the low take-up of free school meals. The Government will respond to the report in February.

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