Schools fear healthy eating rebellion

EDUCATION bosses were last night warned they could face a rebellion from pupils if they force through a healthy eating regime in schools.The government yesterday pledged to stop feeding children the "rubbish that they have been given for decades".

EDUCATION bosses were last night warned they could face a rebellion from pupils if they force through a healthy eating regime in schools.

The government yesterday pledged to stop feeding children the "rubbish that they have been given for decades".

Education Secretary Alan Johnson admitted school dinners had suffered from "decades of under-investment', ahead of the launch of new rules designed to ban junk food from schools.

Pupils will be limited to two portions of chips a week and served at least two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal under the guidelines.

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But last night Chris Denny, of Suffolk County Catering, which provides food to schools around the county, warned against a “knee-jerk” reaction.

And schools in Essex warned that proper funding was needed to make changes.

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Mr Denny said: “You can't change a generation's eating habits overnight.

“I would like to think we're ahead of the game in terms of healthy school dinners in Suffolk. All of our recipes have been heavily checked to reduce levels of sugar, fat and salt.

“But if you ban what is sold in schools but not what is brought in, children will still eat unhealthy items in their packed lunches.

“That could impact on school dinner sales and increase the cost of providing a catering service.”

Latest sales figures for school dinners show the number served across Suffolk dropped by 6,000 over the past five years, from 19,000 in 2000 to 13,000 last year. This drop coincided with negative publicity surrounding the issue and a series of price hikes.

The new minimum nutritional standards for school food follows a high-profile campaign by Jamie Oliver.

The celebrity chef recently voiced frustration that his campaign had been hindered by the fact that Prime Minister Tony Blair had changed his Education Secretary again.

Mr Johnson, who replaced Ruth Kelly in the latest Cabinet reshuffle, will publish the new rules designed to ensure children eat healthier food throughout the school day.

Chris Harrison, secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, supported the principle of improving the health of school dinners but warned it could prove difficult.

He said: “We realise that healthy lifestyles are an important aspect to help prepare people for healthy adult lives.

“The challenge that many schools face is many are not having school dinners. It's the content of lunch boxes that are the problem.

“Suffolk County Catering do all they can to work with schools to develop balanced nutritious menu options. But in my school (Oulton Broad Primary) I've got nearly 300 kids and only about 40 to 50% have school dinners.”

He stressed the responsibility for the health children lies with the family.

In Essex, the county council has given up responsibility for school meals, leaving schools to make their own arrangements.

Sue Wilson, headteacher at Holy Trinity Primary School, in Eight Ash Green said the proposed changes would not affect it.

“We only have chips once a week, and fruit and vegetables every day.

“We have introduced a salad bar where the children get salads and we are part of the national fruit and vegetable scheme - our Key Stage One children get a piece of fruit every day. We encourage healthy eating at break times and have a healthy snack shop.”

Brian Vidler, headteacher of St James' Primary School, Colchester, said: “It won't make any difference to us because those are exactly the guidelines we follow all the time.

“We have already established healthy eating, and we don't have any junk food.

“All of our meals are cooked on the premises - we make our own bread, everything comes with fresh vegetables and it all comes from a local supplier.”

However at North School in Colchester children are given a packed lunch to eat.

Headteacher Alan Garnett said he was trying to reopen his school kitchen but it was not currently economically viable.

“I welcome the Government's proposals, but have great reservations about how they can be achieved for every child in every school.

“Until the Government recognises that the school meal service is not something that can stand on its own two feet and needs subsidy it will be unable to reach its goal of healthy eating.

“I am trying to reopen my school's kitchen, but all the time I come up against the economic reality of not having enough children who want to eat the meals to make it cost effective.

“The Government are skirting the issue, which is long term economic viability.”

What the changes mean:

n The banning from school lunches of low-quality meat products, fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate and other confectionery;

n High-quality poultry, meat and oily fish must be available on a regular basis;

n Pupils will be served a minimum of two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal;

n Any deep-fried items will be restricted to a maximum of two portions each week.

n Ministers have also announced plans to ban junk food and fizzy drinks from vending machines in schools.

n Schools and vending firms will be expected to promote healthier snacks and drinks like water, milk, fruit and yoghurt drinks.

n From September 2008, primary schools will be required to abide by nutrient-based standards which set out the essential vitamins and minerals children should receive. Secondary schools will follow a year later.

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