A new set of standards for all food served in schools have come into force this new academic term.
Designed to make it easier for school cooks to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious menus, they will ensure children can enjoy food that supports their health and education.
Work to create the standards was led by Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.
“We know that children are continuing to eat too much saturated fat, sugar and salt. It is vital that the food children are offered in schools is nutritious and helps them to learn about the basics of a healthy diet.
“I’m really proud of the work that we have done to develop the food-based standards and put them into legislation. The input from dieticians and nutritionists, cooks and caterers, teachers and families during the development and piloting of the standards has been a fabulous example of cooperation in aid of a common goal – healthy, tasty food for children at school."- Professor Susan Jebb, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.
Although the previous standards, introduced between 2006 and 2009, did much to improve school food, they were complicated and expensive to enforce. Cooks had to use a special computer program to analyse the nutritional content of every menu. Often, they ended up following three-week menu plans sent out by centralised catering teams who would do the analysis for them. This meant they couldn’t be as flexible or creative as many would like.
The expert panel of cooks, teachers, caterers and dieticians that oversaw the drafting was chaired by Henry Dimbleby, co-author with John Vincent of The School Food Plan, who commented:
“The previous standards did a lot of good in removing the worst foods from children’s diets. But when we were writing the School Food Plan we met lots of wonderful cooks who felt restricted by them.
“Other cooks complained that having to plan menus so far in advance meant they couldn’t make the most of cheap, high quality, and seasonal produce. These standards will preserve the nutritional gains that have already been made in school food, while allowing greater flexibility.”
Along with supporting guidance and clear information on appropriate portion size, the new standards include:
- One or more portions of vegetables or salad as an accompaniment every day
- At least three different fruits, and three different vegetables each week
- An emphasis on wholegrain foods in place of refined carbohydrates
- An emphasis on making water the drink of choice:
- Limiting fruit juice portions to 150mls
- No more than two portions a week of food that has been deep-fried, batter-coated, or breadcrumb-coated.
- No more than two portions of food which include pastry each week.
Introducing new school food standards is just one of a number of actions that the government is implementing through The School Food Plan. Schools minister David Laws said:
“These new food standards will ensure that nutritious, tasty meals can be enjoyed by all children that choose a school lunch. Providing healthy school food boosts children's health and education. It gives them the fuel they need to concentrate inside and outside the classroom and establishes healthy eating habits for life.”
Other recent successes from the plan include getting cooking into the Key Stage 1–3 curriculum, increasing the take-up of good school food through the Universal Infant Free School Meals initiative and obtaining funding to set up 184 Magic Breakfast clubs in schools..
The plan also intends to transform the culture, training and leadership of school food through work targeted at the visual identity of UK school dinners, head teacher and support staff training and development, and Ofsted inspections of the dining hall.
You can read the plan and watch a short film about all the actions www.schoolfoodplan.com