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A new set of standards for all food served in schools was launched by the Department for Education this week.

New school food standards to reduce 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.

- Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health.

Designed to make it easier for school cooks to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious meals, the school food standards will become mandatory in all maintained schools, new academies and free schools from January 2015.

The work to create these standards was led by Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford. Professor Jebb said:

“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.

“The pilots we ran were very encouraging and clearly enabled cooks to develop nutritionally balanced menus. We saw a real boost in the amount and variety of vegetables offered, helping to increase intakes of fibre and essential nutrients.

“The new standards and supporting guidance include clear information on appropriate portion sizes to help achieve similar results and promote good practice across all schools.”

During the testing, the new standards proved extremely popular with school cooks, 90% of whom said they were easier to implement than the old standards. They also proved just as effective at delivering the energy and nutrients that growing children need. Secondary schools that trialed the new standards reported an increase in the consumption of vegetables, leading to higher fibre, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C intake.

Although the previous standards, introduced between 2006 and 2009, did much to improve school food, they were complicated and expensive to enforce. This meant many school cooks couldn’t be as flexible or creative as they would like.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said:

“These new food standards will ensure all children are able to eat healthy, nutritious meals at school.

“We now have a clear and concise set of food standards which are easier for cooks to follow and less expensive to enforce. Crucially we have achieved this without any compromise on quality or nutrition.

“There has been a great deal of progress in providing healthy school meals in recent years and these new standards will help deliver further improvements.”

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.

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 in line with Public Health England recommendations.
  • Restricting the amount of added sugars or honey in other drinks to five percent.
  • 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.

Read more about the School Food Plan, including guidance on recommended portion sizes and food groups.