Back to school: know your nutrients

18 September 2009
Back to school: know your nutrients

The nutrient-based standards are now in force at all state schools. Kate Snow, home economist at Premier Foods Foodservice, explains how you can ensure you comply.

Since 1 September 2009, all secondary and special schools in England have had to comply with the nutrient-based standards when serving school lunches. Primary schools have already been adhering to the standards for the past year.

The 14 standards apply to an average school lunch and relate to overall provision, rather than individual consumption. The aim is to make the food healthier by increasing the vitamin and mineral content and cutting back on fat, saturated fat, non-milk extrinsic sugars and sodium content.

Ensuring the right nutritional content is achieved has been a minefield for caterers who generally do not have the knowledge, time or resources required to analyse the food they are serving. However, help is at hand and here Kate Snow, home economist at Premier Foods Foodservice, answers key questions.

Caterer Where can a caterer go for help and support when writing recipes and menus which are compliant with the nutrient-based standards?

Kate Snow The School Food Trust website at is a good starting point as it has lots of helpful information, including various recipes, for instance, those rich in iron.

The Local Authorities Caterers Association is another great source of information. As the body which looks after school caterers, it has very specific information for the sector.

Independent nutritionists can be employed to resolve specific nutritional challenges, for instance to look at ways of increasing zinc in your menus. Premier Foods Foodservice also offers a free advice line to caterers and can provide recipes and information on all the products in Premier Foods Foodservice's range. Call 0800 328 4246 for more details.

Caterer Is computer software a useful tool in analysing the nutritional content of school meals?

KS Absolutely, computer software has become an essential device in the development of healthy school meals. Many systems can now analyse individual recipes and weekly menus, and provide data on the amount of each of the 14 nutrients. It will highlight areas where adjustments are needed, for instance, if a menu is too high in salt or low in iron.

Caterer Will nutritional standards deter creativity?

KS In many ways the nutritional standards have made us become more creative because we have had to produce recipes using ingredients that we wouldn't normally consider. For example, for a really healthy pizza, add grated carrots and courgettes to a normal bread base to create a 50% vegetable base. With tomatoes and other vegetables such as red peppers and sweetcorn on top, you have a very healthy dish. For dessert, we have created a Choccie Beet Cake (see recipe) which is a fantastic choice for caterers who struggle to meet the nutritional standards on iron. We use the McDougalls Chocolate Sponge Mix and add grated beetroot, orange juice and black treacle to create a lovely moist chocolate cake which the children love - and it's high in vitamins and iron.

Caterer Some of the trickier standards include achieving the right amount of iron, zinc and folate in menus. How can these minerals be incorporated into dishes?

KS Iron-rich foods include red meat, liver, canned fish, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, dried apricot and raisins. Combining foods high in vitamin C with foods containing iron enhances iron absorption. Use red meat, liver, eggs, dairy products, cereals, lentils and Quorn for zinc. Any dark green vegetable, such as spinach or broccoli is an excellent source of folate.

Caterer What are the best means of boosting vitamins A and C in school meals?

KS The best way to boost vitamin C is to add citrus fruits or vegetables. A good technique is to add apple or orange juice and chopped apple to bread and cake mixes, rather than water, which provides an enjoyable fruit bread. Or make up a chocolate Angel Delight with orange juice to make a healthy chocolate orange version. Yellow and orange vegetables, such as carrots, sweetcorn and pepper are also a great source of vitamin C.

Meanwhile, vitamin A can also be sourced via red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, which can be incorporated into the likes of butternut squash soup, baked sweet potato wedges, red pepper and tomato pasta, and fruit salad.


(Serves 20-24)

  • 700g McDougalls Chocolate Sponge Mix
  • 350g cooked beetroot, grated
  • 100g black treacle
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 325ml orange juice
  • Icing (optional)
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 2-3tbs orange juice


Pre-heat oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5 or 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for fan-assisted ovens. Place the McDougalls Chocolate Sponge Mix, grated beetroot, treacle, cocoa and orange zest in a bowl fitted with a whisk. Blend in the fruit juice on slow speed for one minute, scrape down and then mix for a further four minutes on medium speed. Transfer to a greased 25cm x 35cm tin. Bake in oven until risen and firm to touch.

If icing, blend the icing sugar with sufficient orange juice to form a smooth icing. Spread or drizzle over the cake. Allow to harden slightly before cutting. Alternatively, serve with custard as shown in picture


The figures below are for the required nutrient content of an average lunch over five consecutive school days:

Energy 30% of the estimated average requirement
Protein Not less than 30% of reference nutrient intake (RNI)
Total carbohydrate Not less than 50% of food energy
Non-milk extrinsic sugars Not more than 11% of food energy
Fat Not more than 35% of food energy
Saturated fat Not more than 11% of food energy
Fibre Not less than 30% of the calculated reference value
Sodium Not more than 30% of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommendation
Vitamin A Not less than 40% of the RNI
Vitamin C Not less than 40% of the RNI
Folate/folic acid Not less than 40% of the RNI
Calcium Not less than 40% of the RNI
Iron Not less than 40% of the RNI
Zinc Not less than 40% of the RNI


39 steps to improve school meals uptake

Education week: The kids are fed up

Recipes for schools - lessons in simplicity

Fringe feeding in schools - eat in and take-away

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Check mark icon
Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


Ad Blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an adblocker and – although we support freedom of choice – we would like to ask you to enable ads on our site. They are an important revenue source which supports free access of our website's content, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

trade tracker pixel tracking