Schools play an important role in promoting healthy eating habits to children. Breakfast clubs, healthy tuck shops, school meals and packed lunches can make an important contribution to the energy and nutrient intake of children. A whole school approach is crucial to provide consistent messages for children to make healthier choices.
Healthy eating and nutrition is also emphasised through different curriculum subjects. For more information on food and nutrition in the curriculum, click here.
Nutritional standards across the UK
Although the situations regarding school meals in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are different, the respective administrations have pledged to improve school food and have implemented similar legislation.
There are two main types of school food standards: those based on types of food and drinks that children should be offered at school (food-based) and those based on the proportion of nutrients that children should receive from a school lunch (nutrient-based). Food-based standards include fruit and vegetables, oily fish, bread, milk and dairy foods, deep-fried foods, savoury snacks and confectionery. Nutrient-based standards include energy, protein, carbohydrate, non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES), fat, saturated fat, fibre (NSP), sodium, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron and zinc.
Standards for food other than lunch are also being implemented. These include breakfast clubs, vending machines, tuck shops and after-school meals.
Many schools have also successfully implemented water policies to encourage drinking throughout the whole school day.
School Food Policy
Standards were set out by the School Food Trust (2005).
Interim food-based standards were introduced in 2006.
Nutrient-based standards for primary school lunches became mandatory in September 2008 and have come into force in secondary schools in September 2009.
Standards apply to all local authority maintained primary, secondary, special needs and boarding schools and pupil referral units.
For further information, visit: www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk
Catering for Healthier Lifestyles (2001) sets out compulsory nutritional standards for school lunches, with updated standards introduced in September 2007 for school meals and in April 2008 for other food and drink provision in schools. These are supported by the School food: top marks programme (2009).
For further information, visit: www.etini.gov.uk/index/catering_for_healthier_lifestyles.htm
Building on Hungry for Success (2003), the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act (2007) sets out the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations (2008).
The Regulations have been implemented in primary schools since August 2008 and will commence in secondary schools from August 2009.
Standards apply to all local authority maintained schools, grant-aided schools and hostels for pupils maintained by a local authority.
For further information, visit: www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Education/Schools/HLivi/foodnutrition
Further information regarding food in Scotland can be found in Recipe for Success - Scotland's National Food and Drink Policy: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/06/25133322/0
The Appetite for Life Action Plan (2008) sets out the nutritional requirements for food and drink provision in schools and the actions required to improve the nutritional standards of school meals.
For further information, visit: http:new.wales.gov.uk/topics/educationandskills/policy_strategy_and_planning/schools/appetiteforlife/?lang=en
Many schools provide children with the opportunity to attend breakfast clubs, or purchase breakast items from the canteen. See the links below for further information.
Standards do not apply to packed lunches brought into schools by children, but do apply if the food is provdied by the school. Advice is available on how packed lunches can meet food standards to support the whole school approach to improving food and nutrition in schools.
Free school meals
Children whose parents receive certain welfare payments are eligible for free school meals in the UK. In Scotland, all school pupils in primary one to three will be entitled to free school meals starting from August 2010.
Under the EU School Milk Scheme, children in primary schools can purchase milk and yogurt every day at a reduced price. This scheme has also been extended to all secondary schools in England from August 2008. For more information on free school milk, visit The School Milk Project website: www.dairyco.org.uk/school-milk.aspx
Monitoring school food across the UK
The following are the respective government bodies that monitor the quality of school food across the UK.
England - Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education)
Northern Ireland - Education and Training Inspectorate
Scotland - Inspectorate of Education
Wales - Estyn (Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales)
School Food Trust (England) www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk
Catering for Healthier Styles (Northern Ireland) www.etini.gov.uk/index/catering_for_healthier_lifestyles.htm
Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) Act (Scotland) www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Education/Schools/HLivi/foodnutrition
Appetite for Life Action Plan (Wales) http://wales.gov.uk/topics/educationandskills/policy_strategy_and_planning/schools/appetiteforlife/?lang=en
Last reviewed July 2009. Next review due December 2013