Pupils in England returned to school today to healthier lunchtime menus as part of the government’s drive to tackle childhood obesity.
The new term heralded the introduction of new minimum nutrition standards for school food, which ban meals high in salt, fat and sugar or containing low quality meat from lunchtime menus.
The standards, based on recommendations by the School Meal Review Panel which Which? was represented on, also mean:
- school lunches will be free from low quality meat products, fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate or other confectionery
- high quality meat, poultry or oily fish will be available on a regular basis
- pupils will be served a minimum of two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal
- any deep-fried items will be restricted to no more than two portions in a week
Ministers also announced an extra £240 million to subsidise healthier ingredients for school dinners while training kitchens will be set up across England to teach dinner ladies how to cook fresh food from scratch.
Pupils will also have the chance to take practical cookery classes although these won’t be made compulsory.
Education Secretary Alan Johnson said the lessons – which will be introduced from 2008 – would be attended by ‘every young person who wants to’ take them.
Mr Johnson added: ‘Tackling obesity and encouraging a healthy lifestyle is not just about the food that children eat at school, we must also teach them the skills they need to cook so that they continue to eat healthily in later life.’
However, Which? would like all children to be taught basic cookery skills – not just those who choose the lessons.
Principal Policy Adviser Sue Davies said: ‘It is essential that all children are taught basic food and nutrition skills in schools as part of a whole school approach to food that promotes positive food messages from an early age. We hope that the curriculum review will address this.’
Stephanie Valentine, Education Director of the British Nutrition Foundation, also wants pupils to have to attend the classes: ‘I would prefer to see cooking lessons in secondary schools made compulsory.
‘However, lessons would need to be adequately resourced with equipment, ingredients and facilities, and staff would need to be trained appropriately, to enable children to develop good cookery skills.’