A new set of standards for all food served in schools was launched by Education Secretary Michael Gove today (17 June 2014).
The new standards are designed to make it easier for school cooks to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious menus. They will be mandatory in all maintained schools, and new academies and free schools.
Although the previous standards, introduced between 2006 and 2009, did much to improve school food, they were complicated and expensive to enforce. Cooks had to use a special computer program to analyse the nutritional content of every menu. Often, they ended up following 3-week menu plans sent out by centralised catering teams who would do the analysis for them. This meant they couldn’t be as flexible or creative as many would like.
In trials, 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. In fact, those secondary schools that trialled the new standards reported an increase in the consumption of vegetables, leading to higher fibre, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C intake.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:
Every mum and dad knows that if you want your child to do well at school, and particularly to concentrate well in the classroom in the afternoon, a healthy meal at lunchtime is vital.
If you speak to heads, teachers and cooks about the school meals they provide, they want to be given a little bit more freedom to make their own choices.
The revised school food standards will allow schools to be more creative in their menus. They are easier for schools to understand and crucially they will continue to restrict unhealthy foods to ensure our children eat well.
The new standards include:
- 1 or more portions of vegetables or salad as an accompaniment every day
- at least 3 different fruits, and 3 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
- restricting the amount of added sugars or honey in other drinks to 5%
- no more than 2 portions a week of food that has been deep fried, batter coated, or breadcrumb coated
- no more than 2 portions of food which include pastry each week
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.
Henry Dimbleby, co-author with John Vincent of ‘The school food plan’, said:
The previous standards did a lot of good in removing the worst foods from children’s diets. But when we were writing ‘The school food plan’ we met lots of wonderful cooks who felt restricted by them.
There was a very talented Asian cook, for example, who was exasperated at having to follow the council’s 3-week menu plan of shepherd’s pie and fish and chips, when her pupils - most of whom were also Asian - would have much preferred naan bread and a curry.
Other cooks complained that having to plan menus so far in advance meant they couldn’t make the most of cheap, high-quality, seasonal produce. These standards will preserve the nutritional gains that have already been made in school food, while allowing greater flexibility.
Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health, University of Oxford 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 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.
Background for editors
- The work to create these standards was led by Susan Jebb, Professor of Diet and Population Health at Oxford University. 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 standards will become a legal requirement for schools from January 2015.
- The revision of school food standards is just one of a number of actions that the government is implementing based on the recommendations of ‘The school food plan’. This plan, written by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, aims to improve the food that is served in schools and the broader food culture in schools. Other actions that are being implemented include:
- putting cooking into the curriculum - from September, cooking and food education will be an entitlement for all children in key stages 1 to 3
- setting up 2 flagship boroughs in London to demonstrate the impact of improving school food on a large scale
- providing £11.8 million to help schools increase take up of good school food
- providing £3.15 million to help schools set up breakfast clubs
- introducing free school meals for all infants
- training headteachers in food and nutrition
- Ofsted inspectors to consider behaviour and culture in the dining hall, and the way a school promotes healthy lifestyles
You can read the plan and watch a short film about all the actions.
- All academies established prior to 2010 already have clauses in their funding agreement that require them to comply with the national standards for school food. The Department for Education has recently published revised funding agreements for new academies and free schools, which include the requirement to follow the school food standards. Academies created from June 2014 onwards will also have to follow the new food standards.
- Academies founded between 2010 and June 2014 have no such clause written in their agreement, but are being encouraged to sign up voluntarily to the national school food standards. They can do so at www.schoolfoodplan.com/school-food-standards. Hundreds of academy schools, including the largest academy chains, have already done so. Many academy caterers also hold the Food for Life Catering Mark which also guarantees compliance with the school food standards.
Survey evidence suggests that the vast majority of academies will sign up to the new food standards voluntarily. The School Food Trust wrote to more than 1,500 existing academies in January 2012, asking them to indicate whether or not they were committed to following the national school food standards. Six hundred and forty-one replied, of which 635 confirmed that they were committed to following the standards.