New Standards for School Food



New   Standards for School Food

 A year on from compliance being introduced in primary schools, we look at how primary schools are showing secondary schools how it can be done. 

What do the nutrient-based standards mean to my school?

The nutrient-based standards apply to all food provided at lunchtime, including hot and cold lunches and food provided at mid-morning break. The standards were developed following research showing that children were not making healthy food choices at lunchtime and that school meals were not meeting their nutritional needs.

As one of three main meals of the day, lunch is nutritionally important for all pupils.  For some pupils it may be the only meal they eat which is prepared from scratch, making it essential that school lunches contain sufficient energy and nutrients to promote good nutritional health.  School food also has an important role to play in protecting those who are nutritionally vulnerable, including those who are under or over weight.

The nutrient-based standards build on the food-based standards which were introduced in 2006.  The food-based standards ensure that school meals include the following; more fruit and vegetables (no less than one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables per child per day); healthier drinks including access to drinking water at all times; starchy foods, dairy foods and either meat or fish to be provided on a daily basis; and restrictions on meat products, salt, sweets and savoury snacks, and fried foods.

The nutrient-based standards go further to ensure that the food provided at lunchtime contains the correct levels of 14 nutrients, including energy, carbohydrate, fat, saturated fat, protein, vitamins and minerals.  For example, the average secondary school lunch should contain at least 7.5g protein and 5.2mg iron.

Learning from school success stories

Primary schools have been using their new healthier menus as an opportunity to rebrand their lunches and encourage more children to try school meals. 

Encouraging children to eat healthy food can be a challenging prospect. However, the results from the majority of primary and some secondary schools that have been compliant since September 2008 shows that schools can embrace the standards and provide tasty, attractive meals. These schools have used techniques to teach children about healthy eating and most importantly increase the take-up of school meals, proven to reduce levels of obesity and increase the learning abilities of children.

George Dixon Primary School in Birmingham was involved in a pilot scheme for three weeks in March 2007 where out of the schools 260 pupils, the average take-up of school meals was 48%. All schools will come across their own issues when learning to apply the standards. For George Dixon, an ethnically diverse school population made it challenging to provide food which would satisfy all of the children.

One of the keys to success at George Dixon was their relationship with their catering company. As part of the caterer’s management service, they assessed each school’s budget for school meals, developed, nutritionally analysed and costed the lunch menus. Menus were tailored to suit their pupils’ nutritional requirements and their likes and dislikes. The school also employed a freelance dietician who analysed the nutritional value of the menus and provided nutritional advice.

The catering company also supported the catering staff within the school. The staff are crucial to ensure that the food is served to the highest standards and that the children are satisfied on a daily basis. Training was provided so catering staff could learn to cook at an NVQ level, teaching them to make a tasty, healthy and nutritious meal from scratch.

The school itself also had a large part to play in the success of the pilot scheme. The head teacher encouraged healthy eating by giving house points and stickers to pupils who were willing to try different food, as well as organising competitions with prizes. The school also held parents and pupil taster sessions, promoted meals at open days and parents evenings and sent information home about the lunch menu.

To help address the ethnic diversity, for example, pupils who used English as their second language were given cards to communicate their dietary needs, for example, a ‘V’ card for vegetarians.

In September 2008, George Dixon School became fully compliant with the new nutrient and food based standards. The school continues to go from strength to strength and the take-up of school meals has increased compared to the figures from the pilot scheme in 2007.

Nutrient-based standards guide

In September, each secondary school received a guide to introducing the Government’s food-based and nutrient-based standards for school lunches, which contained lessons learned from their introduction in primary schools. The guide gives teachers the opportunity to develop lesson plans around the food groups and nutrients to teach pupils about the importance of food and cooking skills during lesson time and also during extra curricular activities. Pupils need to know how to achieve a healthier diet outside of school and healthy living should not be limited to school time only. The Trust has also developed ‘Million Meals’ curriculum packs for teachers.

In addition, The School Food Trust has pulled together some of the learning’s and top tips employed by successfully compliant schools in order to help other schools drive interest in the new menus and help increase take up of school meals.

If you’re looking to increase take-up in your school, why not try some of the following:

·       Host tasting sessions for parents and new pupils so they can experience the food first hand

·       Award your pupils house points for trying new foods

·       Set up competitions at your school, giving prizes away to children who show an interest in healthy food. For example, mobile phone top-ups, or a family trip to the local organic farm

·       Promote meals at parents evenings or open days

·       Encourage catering staff to take training to ensure your meals are cooked from scratch and are healthy and nutritious with the same great taste

·       Try modifying the lunch menu and organise daily ‘meal deals’ with three or four different balanced meals at different price ranges so there is enough choice for all pupils, including those on free school meals

·       Try setting up ‘Food Action Groups’, in which a group of pupils has regular contact with the school management and catering team so they can feed back the other pupils’ opinions on school food

·       Introduce a staggered lunch system, altering the time of lunch to reduce queuing and overcrowding, thereby making lunchtime a more enjoyable experience

Reviewing the standards

In order to review how successful the new standards have been, governors will be monitoring each school to ensure the standards are being met. The local authorities (unless they have delegated the food budget to the school) will also be responsible for the provision of school meals. Schools must be able to demonstrate that their food provision meets the food-based standards and that an average school lunch meets the nutrient-based standards.

More information on the food-based and nutrient-based standards can be found on the School Food Trust’s website; http://www.


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