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Serving up children’s health: What ends up on pupils’ plates?

It’s been seven years since the School Food Plan’s introduction of School Food Standards so that “children develop healthy eating habits and…get the energy and nutrition they need across the whole school day”. Achieving the baseline School Food Standards is now a minimum requirement for schools and caterers to secure balanced plates for every pupil.

However, a new report by Guys and St Thomas’s Charity shows that, while many schools and canteens embrace these mandatory Standards, many struggle to apply them in practice.

What were the findings?

Key findings

  1. There’s a postcode lottery in the quality of school food our children are eating.
  2. Improving the quality of our school food is an important lever to close the gaps in between children from the lowest income households and the highest.
  3. Complex funding structures and a lack of national guidance on good procurement means saving money is often prioritised by caterers and schools over children’s health.
  4. Standards are not monitored at school level leaving compliance is patchy and nutritional quality compromised.

How was this researched?

On-the-ground research across the school day was conducted by specialist food consultant Cookwise in 60 inner-city primary and secondary schools in London. It was designed to examine various areas likely to impact on healthy weight, including the effectiveness/existence food and drink policies at school, portion sizes, training received by kitchen and school staff, and the provision of water fountains.

What needs to happen?

National and local government have a greater role to play in supporting schools to adequately fulfil their responsibilities to provide nutritious school food.

Key recommendations in the report prioritise three areas:

1. Better Procurement: school food procurement guidelines should be adapted so contracts weight value towards nutritional quality as well as cost

2. New funding mechanism and eligibility: longer-term call is for universal free breakfast and lunches in primary and secondary school; short-term is for the National Food Strategy recommendations on extending eligibility of Free School Meals to be in place. Transparent and simple funding mechanisms are needed.

Monitoring and accountability: mechanisms needed to hold schools and caterers to account for meeting school food standards in practice with more transparency around the level of nutritional quality per pound spent.

Read the report in full here

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