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Healthier school meals on the menu

New minimum nutrition standards for schools

School children will no longer be fed ‘the rubbish they’ve been given for decades’, the new Education Secretary pledged today.

Alan Johnson was speaking following the publication 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.

Kids will be limited to two portions of chips a week and served at least two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal under the measures.

The Education Secretary told GMTV this morning that he did not think there would be a problem finding contractors to cook the healthier meals:

‘If you put the investment in, which we’re doing, if you insist on the quality and you insist that our kids can no longer be given the kind of rubbish that they have been given for decades, you will find the contractors.

Fruit and vegetables

‘Or you will employ locally employed catering staff to do it themselves. The money’s there and it’s up to schools and local authorities to use it.’

The standards, based on recommendations by the School Meal Review Panel which Which? was represented on, will mean that from this September:

  • 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 have also announced plans to ban junk food and fizzy drinks from vending machines in schools and want to see them replaced with healthier snacks and drinks like water, milk, fruit and yoghurt drinks.

From September 2008, primary schools will have to meet nutrient-based standards which stipulate the essential vitamins and minerals children should receive. Secondary schools will follow a year later.

Food marketing

Which? supports today’s announcement but says the government is setting itself up to fail if it doesn’t deal effectively with the way that unhealthy foods are marketed to children.

Sue Davies, Chief Policy Adviser at Which?, said: ‘It’s great news that so much effort has been put into improving the quality of school meals so children will have a range of healthy options available to them.

‘However unless there are tighter restrictions on the way companies market unhealthy food to children it will be hard for parents to reinforce the healthy eating messages out of school.

‘Food advertising affects the foods that children choose and our research has shown that almost four out of five parents think that TV ads for unhealthy foods should not be shown during the times children are most likely to be watching TV.’

The TV regulator Ofcom is currently looking at proposals about TV advertising to children.

Which? is asking people who feel strongly about unhealthy TV foods adverts aimed at children to go to use our online letter template to email Ofcom before 15 June.

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