MINISTERS are to encourage Welsh schools to use organic food in pupils' meals as a way of boosting organic farming in the principality.
Launching the proposals for new nutritional standards in school meals last week, Welsh education minister Peter Hain said: "Far too many children live on junk food. A diet of chocolate bars, crisps, additives and processed food is often the norm.
"This is as damaging to school performance in the short term as it is to health in the long term."
The proposed minimum standards, which are similar to those issued for consultation in England last September, envisage guidance for three ages of children. The least detailed guidance would be for those under five, who would have to be offered at least one item from each of the main food groups: protein, fresh vegetables or salad or fruit, carbohydrates, and full fat.
For primary-age pupils, the guidelines specify portions by weight from each of the main groups and also suggest offering fruit juice every day, fish at least once a week and cooking in fats and oils low in saturated fats.
At secondary level, the guidelines stress low-fat foods, proposing "a carbohydrate item which was not chips or other fried potatoes," and reduced-fat dairy products.
Responses to The Best for School Meals are required by the end of April. The Welsh Assembly, which comes into being on May 1, will consult on draft regulations later in the year.
The Government is committed to ensuring that all LEAs and schools are providing food to the new standards by May 2002 but exactly when they become compulsory in Wales will be decided after consultation.
In England, the new standards become compulsory this autumn.