SCHOOL DINNERS - All Change


TV chef Jamie Oliver (below) has long been championing the cause of school dinners and trying to improve them for the thousands of children for whom this is their main meal of the day and for others their only meal of the day. He has worked on school dinner ladies, parents in deprived areas and the kids themselves. He has pressured the Government to raise the profile of healthy eating in schools to tackle the rising obesity levels amongst primary school children. But it looks now as if there has been a breakthrough with new coalition government initiatives to provide free meals for younger pupils and to improve school dinners for all.


I loved school dinners when I was a kid (below) - beef cobbler, tender meat and gorgeous bread scones, followed by semolina pudding with a dollop of strawberry jam in the centre and plenty of glasses of water to wash it all down. Sadly, school dinners have been on the decline for decades - more than 50% of pupils now take packed lunches to school. But shockingly, only 1% of those lunch boxes meet nutritional standards. The government's new School Food Plan aims to get 70% of kids eating school dinners by making them tasty wholesome and nourishing. Research by the Children's Food Trust shows that pupils eating a good meal at lunchtime can concentrate better in the afternoon, so as well as being beneficial to health, this move will help kids' learning.


From January 2015, there will be a move away from junk food like chicken nuggets and pizzas on the school dinner menu. Schools will have to include at least one portion of vegetables. Yes, it is not radical, but it's a start and getting some kids to eat vegetables will be a challenge for teachers and supervising dinner ladies. A variety of at least three different fruits or vegetables will have to be offered each week. Wholegrain foods will be  encouraged and fried food or pastry-heavy dishes will be limited to twice a week. For drinks, it will be back to good old water but added sugar in other drinks will be limited to 5%, while fruit juice drinks will be limited to a 150ml serving. A portion of fat and lactose-reduced milk be available every day for all pupils.


The government says that these changes are only the beginning and there is more change to come in the next academic year. Henry Dimbleby, a food adviser to the Department of Education as said, ''It could change the country. The misery caused by bad diets shouldn't be underestimated''. Hear, hear!

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