School Food Plan in Secondary Schools

Remember a few years ago when Jamie Oliver alerted the nation to the state of school meals ‘enjoyed’ by children across the country? The issue of school children eating healthily has continued to dominate headlines since then, as it’s estimated that a third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese. Among the current raft of initiatives is The School Food Plan, which includes a range of measures to help schools achieve a significant increase in pupil uptake level of well-balanced school meals.

At Livewell we are very well placed to support the development of good practice for the future. Our heritage is in providing healthy drinks to schools and in fact our business was first established as a direct response to the drive for healthier living and the post Jamie Oliver government guidelines.  Whilst we applaud the School Food Plan’s measures to improve the quality of school meals, we are concerned about the hydration provisions as set out in the draft revised food standards, which are currently open for consultation.

Our main concern regards the size of combination juice drinks, which the revised food standards claim should be limited to a maximum portion size of 330ml. Instead, we would suggest that the actual juice content in the drinks should be limited to 150ml, without limiting the size of the overall drink.  With the Food Standards Agency suggesting that 14-18 year olds should be consuming between 1.4 and 2 litres of fluids from drinks every day, it seems illogical to limit access to larger sized drinks, providing the juice content remains in line with guideline amounts. Surely we should be encouraging children to remain well hydrated during the school day, given that studies link hydration to cognitive performance?

Also, teenagers and older children are used to buying 400-500ml drinks on the high street. Is it realistic to limit sizes of juice drinks to 330ml in schools when, outside of schools these type of drinks are only available in more popular and established larger sizes?

Looking at the figures, drink sales for caterers amount to 20-25% of income in secondary schools. If we were to reduce the size of healthy drinks which secondary school consumers are demanding, the students will simply go elsewhere, buying larger-sized drinks on their way to school, and may also pick up other food for lunch. Thus, the school’s catering income could decline, which seems counter-productive at a time when The School Food Plan aims to increase uptake of school meals from 35 to 70%.

Please visit the Department of Education’s website to view the revised draft school food standards and also to take part in the consultation, which is open until 16th April.

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