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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 07:07 GMT
School nutrition 'to be relaxed'
By Louise Andrew
BBC Scotland

School dinners
Nutritional standards will be more relaxed than in England
Fish and chips, more salt, and some crisp products could be permitted on the school menu, under proposals put before the Scottish Parliament.

An expert group, set up by the Scottish Executive, said there should be a "more pragmatic" approach to nutrition to entice pupils back to school meals.

Its proposals build on the Hungry for Success project, which ends this month.

The initiative aimed to get pupils to kick junk food. However, many schools saw a drop in school meal uptake.

Cathy Higginson, chair of the expert working group, which recently presented its finding to the Scottish Parliament's Communities Committee, said it had drawn on the experience of Hungry for Success and new guidelines in England.

The group recommended a target for providing 30% of pupil's daily nutrients within the school lunch, compared to an English target of 40%.

"We think this is too restrictive on caterers to provide meals that young people actually want to eat," she said.

"They have to artificially boost micronutrients in meals by adding dried fruit for example."

The group has also proposed a reduction in targets for the amount of salt in food.

If some crisp products are allowed in school the hope is that pupils will eat these rather than going outside and buying unhealthy products
Cathy Higginson
Chair of the expert working group on nutritional standards

Ms Higginson said: "We should not split hairs on the details and be over demanding in respect to some of the nutritional requirements if that's going to put young people off.

"It's very important to keep pupils in school and make the meals tasty and attractive and appealing."

Schools would also be allowed to serve fried foods three times a week, instead of the current two times, under the proposals.

This means schools would be able to retain the popular tradition of fish and chips on a Friday and also include chips, as part of a meal, on the menu on one other day.

Ms Higginson said the new standards aimed to allow some fried foods as part of a balanced diet, while ending the "culture of chips and curry sauce and chips with cheese as meal".

The group also took a more lenient view towards savoury snacks outwith school lunches, recommending crisps that meet tough nutrient standards should be made available.

Industry innovation

Ms Higginson said: "There's a very limited amount of these products available at the moment, but this could create a window of opportunity for innovation within the food industry to develop crisps that schools could sell.

"And if some crisp products are allowed in school the hope is that pupils will eat these rather than going outside and buying unhealthy products."

The group's report also proposed that artificially-sweetened drinks should be allowed in schools in the short-term to help schools phase out fizzy drinks and allow for pupils' tastes to adapt.

Holyrood's Communities Committee is currently considering the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill, which aims to set nutritional standards for food and drink in schools.

Chip van
One local council has gone into competition with chip vans

The Scottish Executive is expected to respond to the expert group's recommendations early in 2007.

Ms Higginson said it was outwith the scope of the bill to address the issue of pupils buying unhealthy lunches from chip vans and convenient stores, though she pointed to pockets of good practice.

"Fife Council has introduced vans that sell healthy food in direct competition with chip vans," she said.

"According to anecdotal evidence, many young people go outside school just because they have the desire to get out at lunchtime and not necessarily because of the food that's available in school.

"So going into competition with chip vans is a very clever strategy."

She added that the Scottish Executive was also working with the Scottish Grocers' Federation to improve the healthy options available within convenient stores, including healthy meal deals.




SEE ALSO
Bid to ban junk food from schools
11 Sep 06 |  Scotland
Diet action plan targets 'missed'
11 Sep 06 |  Scotland
Chips down as school term starts
04 Sep 06 |  Education
Could school dinners be healthier?
04 Sep 06 |  Have Your Say

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