No more chips with everything

8th September 2006 at 01:00
The new academic year heralds the advent of a healthy eating regime but some school meal services face the axe, writes William Stewart

Bad publicity and a lack of money are jeopardising new healthy school dinner standards and some meals services face closure by 2008 unless demand picks up.

Economy burgers are out and chips rationed from this week in a drive to cut obesity and aid pupil concentration. But school caterers say their future is under threat despite the announcement of an extra pound;240 million.

Demand has not recovered from a television series last year in which Jamie Oliver exposing the horrors of Turkey Twizzlers.

Now the celebrity chef is warning that a ban on schools selling tuckshop "crap" will push their catering budgets into the red, making it harder for them to deliver healthy dinners.

Mr Oliver has returned to Greenwich, south-east London, where he began his school dinners' campaign and discovered that the extra pound;220m pledged by ministers last year is making little difference.

In Jamie's Return to School Dinners, to be screened later this month, Nora Sands, head dinner lady at Kidbrooke school reveals she is still trying to create healthy dinners on the same 37p-a-meal budget.

The extra pound;2,000 a year she received was not even enough to pay for her kitchen's annual service charge and she lost the pound;70 a day she used to make from selling pupils sweets and snacks.

Trisha Jaffe, Kidbrooke's head, said the money was not enough to change school dinners radically and that her catering budget could end up pound;15,000 in the red.

The chef spends much of his programme demonstrating the inadequacy of the three-year funding package. But when Tony Blair tells him that another Pounds 240m will extend virtually the same funding levels until 2011, he describes the news as "mega" and promises the Prime Minister he will do a "boogie dance" in celebration.

The package announced this week includes pound;2m for a network of kitchens to train school cooks and an unspecified pot of money from 2008 to help to pay for new school kitchens.

The Local Authority Caterers Association, which represents the suppliers of 85 per cent of English school dinners, said it was delighted by the money.

But a spokeswoman said the Government's target of a 4 per cent increase in school meal take-up by March 2008 would only restore demand to pre-Jamie's School Dinners' levels. "The sustainability of the school meals service for some may not be possible unless a 10 per cent increase is achieved sooner than 2008," she said.

The association is banking on its first TV advertising campaign, revealed by The TES in June, to persuade parents of primary children of the quality of school meals.

Mr Oliver's programme will highlight the problems in 13 authorities where large numbers of schools are without kitchens. He tries to pilot a solution in Lincolnshire with a pub supplying hot meals to two local primaries.

But Caroline Colston, the county's nutritionist, said although the number of Lincolnshire primaries without hot meals had dropped from around 250 to 200, no more than 10 schools would be using pubs this term.

Mr Oliver also tries to tackle the junk food pupils buy on their way to school. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, rejects his call for a ban on junk food in packed lunches saying it is an "issue of personal liberty".

But that does not stop the chef from describing parents who give children fizzy drinks and "bags of fucking shitty sweets" as "arseholes and tossers".

Must serves

* At least two portions of fruit and veg per day, per child; one of which should be salad or vegetables and one fruit - fresh, tinned or a fruit salad. Fruit-based dessert must be available at least twice a week in primaries.

* A dairy food must be available daily.

* A non-dairy source of protein - meat, fish, eggs, nuts, pulses and non-green beans - must be available daily. Red meat must be available at least twice a week in primaries and three times in secondaries. Fish must be on offer once a week in primaries and twice in secondaries. Oily fish must be available at least once every three weeks.

* A starchy food, bread, pasta, noodles, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, millet, cornmeal, must be available daily.

Off the menu

* All drinks except skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, pure fruit juices, yoghurt and milk drinks with less than 5 per cent added sugar, combinations of the above, low-calorie hot chocolate, tea and coffee, are prohibited.

* Manufactured meat products must meet legal minimum meat content levels.

They must not be economy burgers or contain brains, lungs, rectum, stomach, feet, oesophagus, spinal cord, testicles, large intestine, small intestine, spleen or udder.

* No table salt.

* No more than two deep-fried items to be served per week.

* No confectionery, chocolate or savoury snacks, apart from nuts and seeds.

* Fat or oil must not to be used to cook starchy food more than three days a week. Whenever starchy food is served, food cooked without oil or fat should also be available. Bread must be made available for pupils every day.

Tuck shop rules

Other school food rules from September 2006, that are set to become law in September 2007:

* No confectionery.

* No bagged savoury snacks.

Nuts and seeds should be without added salt or sugar.

* A variety of fruit and vegetables should be available in all school food outlets.

* Pupils must have access to free, fresh drinking water at all times.

* The only other drinks available will be skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, pure fruit juices, yoghurt and milk drinks with less than 5 per cent added sugar, combinations of the above, low calorie hot chocolate, tea and coffee.

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