Farewell then to the pot noodle

13th May 2005 at 01:00
The days of the humble school dinner could be numbered if pupils opt for quickie lunches from healthy-eating vending machines. Health officials are urging Welsh schools to offer an alternative to the sit-down meal so time-strapped pupils and teachers can eat at their desks.

A 17-page report promoting the virtues of the "grab-and-go" healthy lunch has been sent to school heads and catering staff.

It is also meant to be an in-depth training guide on how schools should manage their own machines to make a profit. The report says its aim is to "help schools establish healthy food and drink vending as an attractive, useful and financially viable element of the school food service".

Tips and flow charts highlight where machines can be "sympathetically" placed to boost profits.

The phasing-in of the machines is expected to cut dinner queues and stop over-crowding in the dining hall. The report encourages consultation with pupils, but warns against including unhealthy options such as chocolate and fizzy drinks. Instead, the report suggests food such as healthy baguettes, crudites, yogurt and fresh fruit should be included, with semi-skimmed milk and mineral water as the main drinks.

The machines, the report suggests, should be placed at "pinch points" and the contents should be changed regularly to avoid food going off. Staff should supervise their use to avoid vandalism.

The report, written by Joe Harvey, the director of the health education trust, went before the education and lifelong learning committee this week.

Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, said:

"It is a reality that some children will avoid long queues and skip a sit-down lunch. A vending machine with healthy contents is an alternative to not having lunch at all, or eating unhealthily."

But Janet Ryder, shadow Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning, said: "How can a quick sandwich be better than eating a proper dinner? Healthy-eating vending machines are not new, and to pay for such a report is laughable when schools are crying out for money."

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