Shake-up of strict food standards for school dinners

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STRICT food standards setting out the specific amounts of vitamins and minerals in pupils’ lunches are to be overhauled as part of a major shake-up of school dinners, it has been announced.

Ministers have revealed plans to simplify the standards to make them easier for schools, saying the current regulations are overcomplicated.

The plan will initially not apply to existing academies – despite a high-profile campaign from TV chef Jamie Oliver to have all schools covered by these standards.

The Department for Education (DfE) said the new standards will apply to all local council-run schools and any new academies.

The move is part of a new package of measures aimed at helping schools prepare for September, when all infant pupils will be entitled to a free school dinner.

The DfE also confirmed that every small school is to be given a minimum of £3,000 to extend or improve their kitchen facilities and cover costs.

Currently, local authority-run schools must follow strict food and nutritional standards that set down the specific amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and vitamin A, that should be included in each meal.

But the DfE said an independent review of school food, led by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent of the Leon restaurant chain, had concluded that these regulations are difficult for schools to understand, with some having to use computer programmes to analyse the nutritional content of menus.

In some cases, councils or catering companies have had to pay out for analysis, while some schools have paid for private testing, costing around £20 for each recipe. The rules also gave school cooks little freedom to be creative with dishes, it was suggested.

The new standards do not set out specific nutritional content, but instead just state the types of food and drink that pupils should be offered, for example fruit and vegetables on a daily basis.

Mr Dimbleby and Mr Vincent considered concerns that academies and free schools have been exempted from strict nutritional guidelines that apply to other state schools. The review found that while there was no widespread evidence that these schools were departing from the regulations “it is wise to have some sort of safety net in place” and called for new food standards for all schools.