Schools can play an important role in both promoting healthy eating habits to children, and ensuring school food provides healthy balanced and nutritious meals with the appropriate amount of energy and nutrients pupils need.

Breakfast clubs, healthy tuck shops, school meals and packed lunches can make an important contribution to the energy and nutrient intake of children. It is crucial that there is a whole school focus on healthy lifestyles, including the food provided to pupils as well as the emphasis placed on healthy eating and nutrition through different curriculum subjects. It is important that school food providers work together and the whole school community ranging from head teachers to parents, chefs, teachers and classroom assistants are involved, in order to provide consistent messages for children to make healthier choices.

For more information on food provision in schools, click here:

School Food Standards

Although the situations regarding provision and standards of 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 be provided by a school lunch (nutrient-based). Food-based standards include recommendations for fruit and vegetables, oily fish, bread, milk and dairy foods, deep-fried foods, savoury foods, savoury snacks and confectionary. Nutrient-based standards include recommendations for energy, protein, carbohydrate, non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES), fat, saturated fat, fibre (NSP), sodium, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron and zinc. Food based standards are used as this is considered easier to understand and easier to plan appealing and creative menus for pupils.

In England school food standards are now food based only as this was considered easier to understand and easier to plan appealing and creative menus for pupils.

Standards for food other than lunch are also in place. These include breakfast clubs, vending machines, tuck shops and after-school meals.

The school food standards also include standards for healthier drinks. Free fresh drinking water is to be provided at all times, and there are some restrictions are in place for other drinks which are permitted, such as serving size and added sugars. For more information, visit:


School Food Policy in the UK

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have mandatory standards for school food provided throughout the school day. However, the standards do not apply to packed lunches brought into schools by children.

Children whose parents receive certain welfare payments are eligible for free school meals in the UK. There are also additional separate provisions in the 4 nations for eligibility to free school meals.


  • School food standards have been launched by the Department for Education as part of the School Food Plan. From January 2015, these standards became mandatory for food provided throughout the school day, including breakfast clubs, tuck shops, after school clubs and vending machines, in all maintained schools, free schools, and academies founded before 2010 and after 2014. Academies founded in between this period are encouraged to sign up to the standards voluntarily. The new standards have been designed to enable school cooks to easily be able to create original and compliant menus. For further information, visit:
  • Although it is the responsibility of the governing body to ensure that the school meets its statutory obligations from September 2015, under a new Common Inspection Framework, Ofsted inspections will make judgement on healthy eating throughout the school, in classrooms through learning, as well as in the provision of school food.
  • From September 2014 all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2 in state-funded schools in England should be offered a free school meal under the Universal Infant Free School Meal scheme. For more information, visit:


  • Building on Hungry for Success (2003), the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act (2007) sets out the Nutrition Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations (2008). These regulations cover all food and drinks provided during the school day, including breakfast clubs, tuck shops, vending machines and after school clubs, in local-authority and grant aided schools in Scotland. The regulations for school lunches are comprised both of Nutrient Standards and Food and Drink Standards. For further information, visit:
  • HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) includes the monitoring of food provision as part of the ‘health and wellbeing’ section of its school inspections. For more information, visit:


Northern Ireland

  • The nutritional standards for school lunches have been produced under the School Food: Top Marks Programme, by the Department of Education (DE), Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSP), and the Public Health Agency (PHA). The nutritional standards were made compulsory in September 2007 for all grant-aided schools. In April 2008 this was extended to include all food provided during the school day, such as breakfast clubs, tuck shops, and vending machines. For further information, visit: 
  • The Department of Education determines the nutritional standards in all schools. The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) monitor schools’ compliance to the nutritional standards, and the general approach to promoting healthy eating.  For more information, visit:


School milk

  • Children in all 4 countries are eligible for school milk through the EU school milk subsidy scheme
  • Claims can be made by schools, local authorities, suppliers or organisations set up for this purpose.
  • In England, Scotland and Wales the school milk subsidy scheme is administered by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
  • Within these areas all pre-school children who are under 5 and in day care are eligible for free milk. This is organised by Nursery Milk Reimbursement Unit.
  • Pupils regularly attending Ofsted-registered pre-school, nursery, primary or secondary school are eligible for subsidised milk. Pupils regularly attending Ofsted-registered primary or secondary school are also eligible for subsidised milk products and yogurt.
  • Additionally, in Wales, children in Key Stage 1 are eligible for free milk, funded by the Welsh Assembly government.
  • Milk is also available to nursery, primary and post-primary pupils as a subsidised cost in Northern Ireland, and is provided free of charge to all pupils in special schools, through the EU School Milk Subsidy Scheme. However in NI this is administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.


 Last reviewed June 2015. Next review due June 2018