New recipe for controversy

6th April 2001 at 01:00
The Government has laid down the law on what schools should be serving in their canteens. Julie Henry reports

THE Government is making yet another attempt to wean schoolchildren off two of their favourite foods - chips and beans.

Its latest bid to get children to eat their greens ensured that National School Meals Week would not pass unnoticed. But the new healthy eating regime that came into effect this week is only one of several issues that are stirring up controversy in school canteens.

The first minimum nutritional standards legislation for lunches in more than 20 years is aimed at improving children's dietary habits, to reduce health problems such as anaemia, obesity and anorexia.

Each day, caterers have to offer a selection of foods from the four main food groups as well as minimum servings of items such as fish. Primary schools must now provide fresh fruit and vegetables every day, fish at least once a week and red meat at least twice a week.

Chips will be on the menu no more than three times a week and beans served as a vegetable only once a week. The guidelines also urge schools to offer hot food, particularly during the winter.

Parents campaigning in West Sussex, one of seven counties that only offer cold meals to primary schoolchildren, claim the council is breaching the regulations. Richard Symonds' two childen go to one of the 242 schools which offer packed lunches. He said: "The county has performed culinary gymnastics to try to prove that what it offers is a proper meal.

"I can see a situation like they had in America, when schools were trying to get tomato ketchup classified as a vegetable group."

Parents are investigating the possibility of challenging the council under new human rights legislation, claiming they have discriminated on the basis of age, because hot meals are available in secondary schools.

A county council spokeswoman said that before hot meals were dropped, 75 per cent of parents opted for packed lunches. She said pupils did receive a balanced meal which included fruit and vegetable sticks.

In Leicester, halal meat was withdrawn this week from all 17 schools where it is served, after parents raised doubts about its authenticity.

Children have switched to a vegetarian alternative, while the city council's catering division carries out an investigation. The Eastern Shire Purchasing Organisation, which supplies the meat, says it is satisfied that the meat is slaughtered and prepared in keeping with Muslim teaching.

But Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Leicester Federation of Muslim Organisations, said questions had been raised about the sources of the meat, the way it was transported and handled.

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