Primary school children are choosing healthier lunches following the introduction of mandatory standards for school food, according to a new report by the School Food Trust (SFT).
A national study carried out by the SFT found that the lunches taken by pupils in 2009 were healthier than those of children four years earlier, with almost three-quarters of pupils' average lunches including vegetables or salad. It is the first time a study of this kind has been carried out since the Government's new standards came into effect in 2006.
Of the children examined in the survey, 74% were found to be taking servings of vegetables and salad with their lunch, compared with 59% in 2005 when similar data was collected.
Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the SFT, said the Trust is delighted with the progress that's been made and praised the efforts of the caterers to achieve these results. "This is the first time we've been able to measure the impact of the new school food standards on what primary age children are actually taking and eating for lunch," she said.
"Caterers across the country deserve an enormous pat on the back for the huge shift in what's being offered to children, and for all they've done to encourage kids to give healthier options a try."
Hargadon added that the figures reveal that there's still a lot of work to do, both in fully meeting the standards and in encouraging children to eat what's on their plate, but said that everyone involved with school food in primary schools should feel proud of what's been achieved so far.
Schools minister, Diana Johnson, said: "We want to make sure children are eating a healthy, nutritious lunch at school because we know this helps their concentration and behaviour in the classroom.
"Making sure children get a portion of fruit and vegetables each day and the right amounts of fat, salt and sugar, is a vital step towards reversing childhood obesity and protecting their health," she added before also congratulating the efforts of school cooks, lunchtime supervisors and caterers.
The research also found that:
The overall amount of food that children are leaving on their plates hasn't increased
Healthier foods promoted by the new standards, such as vegetables and salad, fruit, milk and yoghurt, fruit juice and fruit-based desserts together represented a 12% greater share of the types of food and drink on offer
Both planned and actual provision of the average lunch showed strong engagement by caterers with the food-based standards
The average meal met around 10 of the 14 nutrient-based standards
Levels of salt, fat and sugar in the average meal were down, and the report highlights the ‘remarkable achievement' of caterers across England in meeting the school lunch standards
Among the continuing challenges identified in the report were reducing how often meat products and starchy foods cooked in fat are offered, increasing the range of ways in which fruit is offered and boosting the iron and zinc content of recipes and meals.
Hargadon added: "It is very clear that we've still got a lot to do. The challenge for us all is to continue supporting schools to create the compliant menus they need, whilst still being creative to tempt even more children to give school lunch a try."
The SFT survey examined what was taken and eaten by 6,696 children from a nationally representative sample of 135 primary schools between February and April last year.
Visit http://www,caterersearch.com/smm for details of Caterer's School Meals Matter campaign in partnership with the Local Authority Caterers Association, and to sign our petition to the post-election government to commit to continued support of school meals provision in the UK.
By Janie Stamford
E-mail your comments to Janie Stamford here.
If you have something to say on this story or anything else join the debate at Table Talk - Caterer's new networking forum. Go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Caterersearch.com jobs