May 20th, 2006

Eatucation: Junk Food Wiped Off Menu in School Meals Crackdown

By Oonagh Blackman
The Mirror (UK)

Chips, sweets, fizzy drinks and turkey twizzlers are to be banned from school meals.

Junk food will be wiped off the menu from September 1 to “undo decades of neglect”. In the most sweeping changes for years there will be strict limits on foods high in salt and fat.

Children will be limited to two portions of chips or deep fried food a week and served at least two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal.

The move comes after TV chef Jamie Oliver’s campaign, backed by the Mirror, amid rising alarm about childhood obesity and the failure of many parents to provide nutritious meals.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson denied schools will struggle to find contractors to cook healthier meals.

He said: “If you put the investment in, insist on the quality and insist our children can no longer be given the kind of rubbish they have been given for decades, you will find contractors.

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“The health of our young people is not an area for compromise.”

But head teachers said there is not enough cash to meet the new standards.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Many schools have long-term complex contracts with catering firms which may be time-consuming and costly to renegotiate.

“The problem of obesity cannot be solved by the paltry 2,000 additional funding going to secondary schools after the overhyped Jamie Oliver initiative. Schools can offer fruit and veg with every meal but there is no requirement to eat it. They can still bring a packed lunch full of crisps and junk food.”

The key changes will ban low - quality meat, fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate and other sweets from lunches and ensure high-quality poultry, meat and oily fish are regularly available.

Junk food and fizzy drinks will be banned from school vending machines and replaced with mineral water, yoghurt drinks and milk.

From 2008 primary schools must stick to standards based on the amount of essential vitamins and minerals children must have. Secondary schools will follow in 2009.

Firms which fail to provide healthier meals will lose their contracts. And 11 to 14 year olds will have cooking lessons to help improve diet at home.

Sue Davies of consumer magazine Which? said: “It’s great news… but unless there are tighter restrictions on the way companies market unhealthy food it will be hard for parents to reinforce healthy eating messages.”

Melanie Leech, head of the Food and Drink Federation, said manufacturers support the drive.

The Education Department said: “These new standards will be law and Ofsted and the School Food Trust will make sure it happens.

“If not, the Secretary of State has powers to issue direction orders and of course campaigners and parents will be keeping a watchful eye.”

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