Junk foods are to be banned from school meals in the UK under new standards set out by the country’s education secretary Alan Johnson today (19 May).

The minimum nutrition standards have banned meals high in salt, fat and sugar or containing low quality meat from lunchtime menus.

“The standards published today will improve the quality of food in schools and undo decades of neglect in school meals provision. They are the result of over a years’ work and have been widely consulted with professional associations, dietitians, health charities, and food and drink organisations,” a statement said.
In line with the recommendations of the School Meals Review Panel, from this September food-based standards will 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; and any deep-fried items are restricted to no more than two portions in a week.

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

Schools will be required to raise the bar further with even more stringent nutrient-based standards – stipulating the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, for school meals – introduced in primary schools by September 2008, and secondary schools by September 2009.

Johnson said: “These new standards will start to undo decades of neglect and ensure that healthy eating is the norm in every school. The health of our young people is not an area for compromise.

“Providing pupils with a healthy balanced meal that will give them the energy, vitamins and minerals they need to learn and play is essential, but we will go further, helping schools to teach every pupil skills in diet, nutrition, practical food preparation and cooking to ensure they make the right choices throughout life.

“Some schools are already making significant improvements in school meals. We will continue to support every school in delivering a transformation in the health content of their food. GBP220m (US$412m) is being invested to improve school meals, with better training and increased hours for school catering staff. Our multi-billion pound schools building programmes will help modernise school kitchens across the country.”

Suzi Leather, Chair of the independent School Food trust, said: “We are delighted that the advice of the School Food Trust and the School Meals Review Panel has been taken on board by Government. This is an important step in improving our children’s health.”