Whats the big idea?
- Every school has the duty to provide a school meal for those
children entitled to a free school meal and to any child that
- These school meals must meet basic minimum nutritional standards,
including providing fruit and vegetables every day.
- School meals should be prepared, presented and promoted to ensure
that healthy options get eaten.
- All schools can have the school meal budget delegated from the
Local Education Authority to themselves.
- With delegated budgets the school meal service becomes the responsibility
of the school management body.
- No school can say there is nothing they can do about their school
meal service. .
Many primary schools are having their meals budgets delegated.
Those that aren't can choose to have the meals budget delegated
if they wish. All schools therefore have an important decision to
make about their school meals service. In order to provide the best
service possible they must become familiar with where their responsibilities
lie and what options are open to them.
Details on what these options are and information on school catering
contracts are provided in information bank 11.
The ideas provided on this information sheet are things that can
be done to improve the lunchtime menu and promote the healthier
options without necessarily making contractual changes.
Some schools involved in the Grab 5! pilot project took steps to
improve the school meal service and lunch menus and found that relatively
small changes can have significant impact in terms of uptake of
Several other schools found that, even without making any specific
changes to the lunch time service, an outcome of doing Grab 5! was
that children started to choose the healthier options. As one school
"There has also been a noticeable shift in the children's
choice of food at lunchtimes. More children are willing to try
food that they have not tasted before and a lot more of them are
choosing to eat salad and vegetables. They are also opting for
the healthier option desserts."
Planning catering changes
Often parents, children and teachers are unhappy with
the school meals on offer. Complaining about the school meal providers
and the kitchen staff is not the solution. Communication with them
often is. Meetings involving the school head, the school cook, the
area catering manager, a dietitian and the Healthy Schools and/or
Grab 5! coordinator can be very informative and useful.
School cooks are usually working under very restrictive conditions
with tight budgets, limited time, basic equipment and set food items
to choose from. Once these limitations are recognised, there are
often several relatively easy things that can be done by the kitchen
staff, teaching staff and school meal providers jointly to bring
about positive change. In many cases, if school meal uptake can
be increased children will benefit because, while perhaps not perfect,
they are often better, in terms of nutrition and value for money,
than the packed lunches being brought in.
Here are some of the ideas that schools came up with during
the Grab 5! pilot project:
- Carry out a survey amongst children about their views on school
- Send a letter and questionnaire to parents letting them know
that the school is looking at school lunches and seeking their
- Invite the school meal providers in to talk to the children
about healthy eating and offer samples of the healthier choices
- Invite a community dietitian in to talk to the children about
- Do classroom work with children about their favourite healthy
- Investigate the option of offering sandwiches instead of cooked
food so that the children on school meals can eat outside during
summer months. (Lots of schools experience a drop in children
taking up school meals during the summer as many want to be outside)
- Invite parents into school for a free school meal on a particular
day, for example during health week
- Reorganise the seating arrangements so that children taking
school meals can sit with their friends with packed lunches.
- Offer special theme meals, for example Halloween, Italian or
Christmas meals. The school meal providers will probably have
some special dates already planned.
- Stop fizzy drinks. This can be done on the grounds that they
explode and cause a mess.
- Offer fruity shakes and smoothies for a small charge (they could
be made by children and/or staff).
- Print out large menus and stick them in windows for parents
There may also be opportunities to provide training on healthy
eating for school kitchen staff. Training is anticipated as part
of the Government commitments made to improving school meals in
2005. However, at the time of writing, details werent available.
During the Grab 5! pilot project such training events were organised
jointly by Grab 5!, the local school meals provider, the Healthy
Schools programme and a community dietitian. For more details on
these events contact Sustain, 020 7837 1228. The suggestions listed
on the following page, 'How to get children grabbing five at lunchtime'
were a result of these events. The page has been designed so that
it can be printed off, enlarged and photocopied for use as a poster
in the school kitchen.
Taking it to the classroom
The importance of a balanced diet for health and growth is included
in the key stage 2 curriculum. Why not get pupils to design a healthy
school meal, run a competition and arrange for the winning menu
to be offered at lunchtime? Pupils could also create posters for
the dining room promoting 5 a day, reinforcing the healthy food
message at the same time as brightening up the dining room.
Nutritional standards for
At the time of writing primary school lunches must contain at least
one item from each of the following food groups:
- Starchy foods such as rice, pasta, bread and potatoes (chips
and other starches cooked in oil no more than three times a week).
- Both a fruit and a vegetable available everyday. Fruit based
desserts at least twice a week.
- Meat, fish and alternatives. Red meat must be served at least
twice a week. Fish must be served at least once a week. Cheese
can be included in this group.
- Milk and dairy foods.
The Government has made a commitment to revising these standards
with new ones, probably nutrient-based, anticipated in September
2005. For the latest information visit www.dfes.gov.uk/schoollunches.
At no extra cost to the school, Greenwood Primary School now serve
healthier school meals that are agreed weekly by the school cook
and the head, with input from school council. The number of times
chips are served in a week has been reduced to just once and water
is now served instead of squash. Teachers offer rewards in class
to children who choose a healthy lunch and the head teacher and
deputy head teacher continue to monitor children's choices. The
lunch time supervisors have been trained to encourage healthy choices.
Farsley Fairfield Primary School comments on changes made to the
"Children can now stay with their friends and this really
helps keep numbers. The staff were against the new arrangements
at first but now it is quite quick."
And the outcome of holding a special menu day:
"uptake increases by approximately forty children but
this does drop off after the event"
Brudenell Primary School comments on inviting parents in:
"Parents were invited to come in and join their children
for lunch on certain days and this proved to be a very social
occasion with table cloths, daffodils and music. The parents thoroughly
enjoyed this and couldn't believe how good the school meals were.
Numbers definitely increased."
The Caroline Walker Trust publication, Nutrient-based
standards for school food provides widely respected
standards and guidelines. Details are available on www.cwt.org.uk.
The Chips are Down - A Guide to Food Policy in Schools
is available from the Health Education Trust, on 01789
773915, priced £10.00. www.healthedtrust.com
The Feed me Better Campaign, led by Jamie Oliver,
provides healthy, unprocessed recipes for schools meals,
lesson plans and information on how to improve the school
meal service. Packs for schools are available for £14.50.
Visit www.feedmebetter.com or call 08712225678.
Food for Life, is a programme for schools, led
by the Soil Association, that aims to increase the amount
of local, organic and unprocessed food in school meals.
Information and curriculum materials are available from
Healthy School Lunches for Pupils in Primary Schools
- a guidance for shool caterers on implementing national
nutritional standards is available from Department for
Education and Skills Publications 0845 6022260 and to
download at www.dfes.gov.uk/schoollunches.
Hungry For Success - A report produced by the Scottish
Executive providing guidance on a whole school approach
and menu planning advice. Copies available from www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/education/hfs.pdf.
Primary Choice is a specialist company that can
help schools set up their own school meals service and
discuss how they might buy good, locally produced food.
For more information contact Jeanette Orrey, 07973345475,
email@example.com or visit the Primary Choice website,
Bank 3: Healthy eating guidelines,
info bank 4: Nutritional standards for school lunches,
info bank 8: Do a survey,
bank 11: Responsibility for providing school meals.