School Food

For our latest campaigning on school food, see our Save Our School Food Standards page



School Food Summary (prior to the new School Food Plan established in 2012, and in 2014 consulting on new school food standards)

For many years the state of the school food was dire, with poor cooking and canteen facilities, under trained staff and unhealthy meals the norm.  Children were being deprived of their right to healthy food, and the opportunity to develop healthy eating habits.  Widely available junk food was contributing to ill health and poor behaviour. Since 2005 we have seen great improvements in school food, with nutritional standards for school food, increased investment in facilities and training, and junk food removed from vending machines and tuck shops.  However, there are still improvements to be made to ensure that children are able to take advantage of the new improved food on offer.   

In 2003, the average amount spent on ingredients for a primary school meal was 35p.  This is half of what is spent on lunch for residents in HM Prisons and a quarter of the sum allocated to feeding an army dog. (Joanna Blythman (2006) Bad Food Britain.  How a nation ruined its appetite)]

Thanks to years of campaigning by organisations such as Sustain, school food has improved dramatically in recent years.

Before:

For years school meals services suffered from neglect and underinvestment, with kitchen and canteen facilities in many school removed or allowed to deteriorate.  School meals staff were not given proper training to allow them to prepare food from scratch, and their job was reduced to heating up and serving pre-prepared food delivered from large catering firms.  Menus in many schools were limited to a regular selection of processed and deep fried foods, including pizza, chips and the infamous “turkey twizzlers”.  Such options tended to be high in fat, salt and sugar, and contained little fruit and vegetables or other fresh ingredients.  Junk food was widely available in vending machines and tuck shops.

After:

Since the establishment of the School Food Trust, a Non Departmental Public Body, in 2005, new standards for the type and nutritional quality of school food have been introduced in primary and secondary schools.  This is a great success for campaigners such as the Children’s Food Campaign and Jamie Oliver.

The new rules for food in school ensure that:

  • School lunches are free from low quality meat products, fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate or other confectionery
  • High quality meat, poultry or oily fish is available on a regular basis
  • Pupils are served a minimum of two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal
  • Any deep-fried items are restricted to no more than two portions in a week.

Schools have also ended the sale of junk food in vending machines and tuck shops (including confectionery, crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks).  The School Food Trust now works with schools and vending providers to promote sales of healthy snacks and drinks such as water, milk, fruit juices and yoghurt drinks

In addition to the school food standards, a series of measures have been put in place “to embed the school food revolution for the long term and help tackle childhood obesity”.  The package consists of:

  • £240m to continue to subsidise healthy ingredients until 2011
  • Training kitchens - £2m for the establishment of a network of regional training kitchens to act as centres of excellence, hosting the area's school cooks for training on day release
  • An entitlement to learn to cook - pupils' entitlement to cookery courses in secondary schools from 2008 so that healthy cooking stays with children for life
  • A specific fund for building kitchens - in addition to the multi-billion pound Building Schools for the Future and Primary Capital Programme, funding has been made available from 2008 to local authorities that have the most need for new kitchens
  • Increasing tendering opportunities for small and local producers – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will work to increase their capacity to bid successfully for contracts to supply schools with food, in particular by helping them to collaborate in consortia and with the rest of the food chain

Still more to do:

All these changes are great news, but there are still improvements needed.  We know that in many schools, although the food has improved, the lunchtime environment hasn’t, meaning that many pupils don’t take advantage of school meals.  In many schools cramped canteens, long queues or food running out can be problems.  But they can be overcome with pressure from parents, and support from head teachers and caterers.

What can I do?

Parents

  • Contact the school to ask if you can see the meals first hand.  
  • Ask for a copy of the menus with ingredients listed.  
  • Offer to work with the school to set up a School Nutrition Action Group with the aim of improving school dinners.  
  • Write to The Chair of Governors asking which governor has responsibility for school meals and ask them to develop an improvement plan.

Students

  • Raise your concerns with the school council.
  • Ask your head teacher if you can be involved in creating an improvement plan.
  • Suggest a comments/feedback book in the dining room to capture student feedback.
  • Suggest that school council take regular pictures of school meals to share with staff and governors.

Governors

  • Appoint a designated governor to take responsibility for school meals.
  • Invite the caterers to a governing body meeting so you can begin to develop an improvement plan.
  • Register your school with million meals website School Food Trust to ensure you receive up to date advice and help from School Food Trust.
  • Check that your schools food policy covers lunchtimes.
  • Ask all governors to eat a school lunch as part of their school visits.
  • Ensure that information about free school meals is on display and easily accessible on your school website.

Parents, Students, Governors, Teachers: tell us what’s happening at your school or at your children’s schools.  What changes have been made?  What do other children, parents and teachers think about the changes?  What else would you like to see change? Email us to share your experiences with others around the country.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do the new standards mean that schools aren’t allowed to serve chips?
No, deep-fried foods such as chips can be served up to twice a week across the school day.

What about packed lunches?
Packed lunches provided by the school must meet the food-based standards for school lunches. However, the standards do not apply to packed lunches brought from home. The Children’s Food Campaign supports the use of Packed Lunch Policies to facilitate healthier eating. Where implemented, after proper consultation with pupils, parents and staff, they can help to improve the healthiness food consumed by all pupils.

What can we do to improve the school lunch environment?
Pressure from just a small number of parents can be extremely effective in encouraging head teachers to work with the school caterer to ensure that problems such as food running out, excessive queuing or inadequate portions are addressed.  These tactics can also help bring about wider change, such as improving dining facilities, influencing procurement policies or switching caterers if necessary. 

At the wider level, the Children’s Food Campaign continues to push for increased investment in the school food, and for adequate kitchens and canteens to be included in all new schools.

Comprehensive FAQs regarding school food can be found on the School Food Trust website.

More information

In depth information about the new standards is available from the School Food Trust.


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