Will government guidelines improve the quality of school meals?
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has unveiled details of the government's drive to get healthier eating in England's schools, including giving teenagers cookery lessons.
The School Meals Review Panel has also announced tough guidelines on the nutritional value of school meals, which will be compulsory from next September.
What should schoolchildren be taught to cook? Will the government guidelines make a difference? What are your school meals like?
Do you have any pictures of your school dinners? If so, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
My school has never served junk food in the seven years I have been there. So far this week meals served include: home made shepherds pie, steak and roast beef - the vast majority of pupils have vegetables with these main meals. Chips are only served on a Friday with fish. Additionally there is always pasta and jacket potatoes, as well as sandwiches and an extensive salad bar. I believe the problem is the way children in some schools buy their food each day.
John Kipling, Oxton, Merseyside
It's great to see these changes implemented. After watching Jamie's battles on TV much more credit should be given to him. The sad part is, it took a celebrity chef and a TV show to make it happen. The government should have acted on this long ago.
David Morris, Victoria Canada
What a load of rubbish! I am 13 years old and I go to Stirling High School. There are healthy alternatives and usually I would buy a healthy thing but I also have a portion of 'junk food'. If they were to ban the junk food then I wouldn't enjoy lunch like I do and I would just go to the many shops that sell 'junk food' outside of school.
Andrew Davidson, Stirling, Scotland
This isn't my normal line of approach but it's the buzz at the minute. Doesn't this infringe on the children's human rights to eat what they want to eat? Children don't know anything about politics and don't care what they eat. They will simply ignore the lunches given and go out and buy their own munchies. That's certainly what I used to do and my school meals used to consist of curries and roast dinners. I wanted sweets and I wasn't going to be stopped!
Adam, Oxford, UK
I am disgusted at how this subject is being paraded as an achievement, something that the Labour Party is doing for us people. We should have had this as standard, driving standards down then claiming credit for bringing it back up is deplorable.
Robert Bahrani, London, UK
Children are in school to learn. This includes eating habits. If they were given choices on key matters all the time, then half of them wouldn't bother attending school.
Vincent, Cranny, Liverpool
My daughter recently started secondary school and the food offered in the canteen there was of such an unhealthy standard that I now give her a packed lunch. I would prefer for her to have a hot dinner but chips every day is not acceptable. Any new legislation ensuring that children are properly fed at school must surely be a good thing.
As a school student myself I am very pleased that junk food will be removed from schools. Not only will this help with children's behaviour, but will be the foundation of a stronger, healthier generation of children.
Jamie Holmes, Plymouth, UK
Put the prices up. Don't deny the children the choice, just make it somewhat harder to get.
Robert McAuley, Dumfries, Scotland
Yet another example of nanny state politics pandering to a populist agenda tackling symptoms and not cause. Children who want chocolate bars and snacks will buy them on the way to school, without the VAT added by a vending machine. In fact the ban is likely to increase the appeal for a lot of children, eating the forbidden apple.
K Pope, Tadley, Hants
Our children are constantly bombarded with advertising imagery from corrupt corporations out simply to make a fast profit from selling bad products. Ultimately, as adults we should all be a lot more discerning and not allow ourselves to be subject to the corporate lies but this government intervention is a good thing.
Peter, Reading, UK
We are one step ahead of the Secretary of State Ruth Kelly at our school. We have for some time provided for our children low fat, low salt no additive foods, made from fresh produce. Our vending machines dispense only healthy foods and non carbonated drinks. The benefits aside from a healthier diet have been better concentration and behaviour in lessons.
Peter Cox, Southport
Disease caused by junk food costs the taxpayer comparable amounts to that caused by tobacco; junk food should have a similarly high tax levied on it. Extra revenue could be used to subsidise healthier options or education. Yes, this is nanny-stating. Unfortunately a lot of children (and their parents) don't seem to have the self-control to operate without a nursemaid.
Jon Bray, Newport, Wales
In secondary schools, particularly ones with sixth forms, there are a lot of young adults who should have the freedom of choice on what they eat. They are old enough to make their own decisions.
Dave, Hull, UK
I am a teacher and really notice after a lunch time which kids have gorged on junk food. They are hyperactive but then become slow and sluggish, and learn little in the two lessons after lunch. Feed their brains!
Georgie Ancell, Peterborough
Many here talk about the rights of the children. If we start giving children more rights, how can we possibly be upset when they are fat and lazy? Children will eat junk food and sweets every time over a healthy snack. This isn't a surprise is it? We all chose the same way growing up.
Dan, Littleport, England
Well, it's a start I suppose - shame it took a number of high-profile TV programmes and films to get the message across. Now can we just get Jamie Oliver, Morgan Spurlock or Andrew Flintoff to bemoan the distinct lack of physical education or sports in modern schools, maybe get something done about that as well...
Simon Oxlade, Swindon, UK
This is wonderful news. I believe a similar action would greatly help the obesity problem for US children. Along with nutrition education, this could lead to leaps and bounds toward a healthy lifestyle.
Katy Tolfree, St Simons Island, USA
The government have no right banning vending machines from schools. It's a democracy for goodness sake and the best option would be to put a healthier option vending machine beside the usual one. Kids don't want to eat healthy foods at that age and you can't make them.
Colin Mathie, Glasgow, Scotland
This is good news, but what choice will they get on their meals. What abut those children who are brought up, or decide to be vegetarian? Or will they be largely ignored as usual?
it is just silly. Some children need chocolate to boost their energy. I totally disagree and feel there should be some sugar. Maybe not a lot of junk food but you cannot ban crisps. More people will eat sugary foods because it is not in school so they will buy it elsewhere. I certainly will.
Victoria, (15 years old) , Southampton
Congratulations to Jamie Oliver for getting this message through to the government. It is also vitally important that healthy eating is perceived as "cool". It would be great if children received nutritional education as well.
Liz Gardyne, Friockheim, Angus
Very good but remember it's the parents who need to be educated. I know many parents who don't know the good food from the bad or just don't care.
Ursula Caffarey, Blackheath, London
I think it's a very good thing for our school children to eat more healthily. They are the future. I just wish Ruth Kelly would admit that this is largely as a result of Jamie Oliver's work and give the man his due credit.
Paul Mueller, Leicester, UK
I know if I am offered a plate of chips, I find it hard to resist! Why put temptation in children's path? Emphasis should be on preparation too, though. However healthy a meal is, if it has been overcooked it will not be palatable.
Jill Dobbs, Hemel Hempstead, UK
Great news or a recognition of how bad things had become? I was at school 10 years ago, when the only vegetable served was potato in the form of chips and an apple was the same price a Mars bar. The change is long overdue!
Chris Jay, Seoul, Korea
What about counties like West Sussex, where the school meals service was abandoned some years ago in response to the Labour government's failure to pass enough funding to a debt free council?
Geoff Thompson, Crawley Down, West Sussex
It could be better to teach children that everything is OK in moderation. Girls especially are having a hard time relating to food and it can't be good to completely ban a group of food. Call me cynical but the concern of the government has little to do with children's health and a lot to do with avoiding future lawsuits from overweight children.
I know when I was at school 10 years ago, home economics was a bit of a skive. I was lucky my parents are good cooks and now both my brother and I can look after ourselves. Educate the parents.
I have been disgusted by my son being given sweets, pudding and crisps as part of his 'school dinner'. We don't eat this at home, so why should other people overrule my parental decision and give this to him? Ban empty calories from schools altogether - like in Denmark, where I grew up. This will help tackle behavioural problems, obesity and hey presto - the kids concentration goes up a notch too! Good one, thanks!
Children eating junk food is not new. I went to school 1969-74. We had an enormous tuckshop, open at morning break and lunchtime. There was always a huge queue. My weakness was Kendal Mint Cake; my dentist observes the evidence of this at least twice a year.
Helen Enevoldson, Manchester
My kids check the menu and take a packed lunch on days when junk food like pizza is being served at their schools. Their choice, not ours. Their awareness of what rubbish they had been eating at school was raised by Jamie Oliver's series. They shouldn't have to eat it at school because the authorities don't want to spend the money.
Chris, Bury St Edmunds, UK
I think this a wrong move. They should educate kids so that they understand about healthy food. Jamie Oliver was onto something with his show but the burden falls on the parents, not the schools. Taking away choice will just push the kids to local newsagents and chip shops.
Campbell MacFarlane, Inverness
If parents cannot teach good eating habits then it is left to the nation. If we were to stand idly by these children would grow up with health problems - which is the business of every taxpayer.
I work in a secondary school and feel that this is an excellent idea - but we rely on the profits from vending machines to subsidise extra-curricular events and sports teams. Does the government intend to increase the budgets given to schools to cover this loss in revenue?
Roger Burrows, St Helens
Our school meals have dramatically improved since the school took over the running of them. We have saved around £20,000 this year, the meals provide far better choice and even staff are eating them. Children do select healthier options. It's a pity many of those who stay for packed lunches come in with bags stuffed with junk food and sweets. I think the parents need to think about this one too, not just the schools.
What about the contracts? Some schools are locked in to 25 year contracts with their school dinner suppliers that were entered into with good faith. How will the government help here?
It's a start, but the reality is that parents are responsible for what is fed to a child. A child is more likely to eat fresh fruit and vegetables if such foods are introduced at an early age. Give babies blended fruit and vegetables as early as possible.
DW, Chicago, USA (British ex-pat)
Of course kids will still visit the local chip shop, but at least now they can choose between healthy food at school or junk food outside. Who knows, some of them might learn to enjoy vegetables.
I back this move 100% I would also like to see all schools offer a choice of hot and cold meals.
My old school removed the fizzy drinks machine four years ago following a majority vote from students, it was replaced with pure fruit juices and a water fountain. After a few months students reflected on this as a positive change and the difference among students behaviour was noticeable.
Becky Craven, Oxford
Yes. That has to be a step in the right direction. And I hope it is just the first step. The next step is to ensure that children have the opportunity to play sport daily. It is common knowledge that diet and exercise are important not just physically but also mentally - if we want the best for our children, and want to enable and encourage their development, this is the next step.
Will, London, UK
I think that the standard should be set by the parents. If the kids are bought up on fruit and veg then it would not be a problem for the government or its teachers. The message should go out to all the antenatal/parent groups to ensure that parents are educated.
Paul Fisher, New Milton, England
Banning junk food isn't really going to help. At my school, we've got rid of vending machines that sell food and we do have a choice of healthy eating or grabbing a burger and a side of fries. I think that other schools need to offer pupils and students choices. Aren't we, after all, being shaped into adults, having to make our own decisions? Taking away our right to eat whatever we choose is one slow turning point towards a dictatorship and most children only choose the school junk food because they aren't aware of what damage it can do to their body. Instead of removing junk food from the menu, why not make it available about 3 days a week and to start teaching and preaching more about healthy food and its benefits.
Fearn Sobers, Middlesbrough, UK
If people can't make the right decision after having been bombarded for years with all the relevant info then yes, the government has to step in and make that choice for them, or in this case, their children. Human rights? Surely it's the kids' human rights to get a good start in life and not be burdened by lifestyle illnesses caused by poor eating habits in their childhood?
George, Crawley, Sussex
Not only was junk food not on the menu at school, we were banned from bringing it in. It's time they stopped giving pupils the choice of junk food and gave them an education instead.
R Evans, Cardiff, Wales
Well done is what I say. It's not a fix to the larger problem but it's a step in the right direction! It's a shame to see so many people laugh at it saying it won't change anything. Perhaps if more people supported something so important other areas and 'avenues' would follow. To walk 1 mile it still takes lots of small steps.
Chris Nesbit, Southampton
My son's school has always provided a healthy menu with plenty of choice - for a very reasonable £7.50 a week. The problem is there is not enough of each food choice to go round, he's in year 3 and by the time reception and years 1 and 2 have been in to dinner he has to settle for what's left and often goes hungry - I hate to think what years 4, 5, and 6 get to choose from - what ever happened to a school canteen - we need to do away with outside catering companies and start cooking in the schools again - hot fresh food of any types is better than a limp salad that a child doesn't really like, and wont ever like if its served up hours after is was made and has travelled miles in the back of a stuffy van!
At my old school, the canteen was stocked up with burgers and chips, and the vending machine with crisps and chocolate. Since then the school has cut out most 'junk' foods and unhealthy options. This is a great step in tackling obesity and other high fat/high sugar related health issues. However, the next step is to make healthier foods more attractive and appealing, rather than schoolchildren just thinking eating healthily is a burden. Most importantly, children should be able to get a good square meal every school day.
Richard, Cambridge, Great Britain
The motive behind this move is perfectly understandable and commendable. However, as with so much that this government tries to do, the subject appears not to have been thought through. In truth many children either bring their own food to school or opt out of school meals and head off to the nearest high street to make their own arrangements and so the quality of their diet will remain largely subject to choices dictated by their parents choice/guidance, their own dietary preference, limitations imposed by locally available options within easy access of their school or the budget available to them for their lunch. Unless the government is prepared to ban these practices/personal choices it is hard to see this being anything other than a headline/vote grabbing initiative with limited prospects for real results.
Andy D, Oxford, UK
I am a teacher of longstanding within a large comprehensive. We have twelve vending machines and their profits pay for 2 teachers at our school. Without machines we will see more truancy as our pupils would leave school to buy the sweets and fizzy drinks that are bad for them. This is headline grabbing stuff that won't work, much as every other policy of the party I once supported.
Paul Franczak, St Leonards on Sea, E Sussex
Eureka! Now let's see how long it takes the government to actually figure out that more than 1 hour of mandatory physical education on the school curriculum will also decrease the level of obesity in our children. Kids need at least 3 hours a week. Simple formula: good diet + exercise = healthy
Emma Higgins, London
Are these rules going to be applied to the House of Commons canteen as well as my school?
Marianne, Ealing, London
I am a school child, as it were at a private school so we pay for our own meals. Trouble is, the food isn't actually that good. It's not your standard burgers and chips, it's all fresh - chicken pie, pasta and sauce, some sort of casserole etc. All the ingredients are still cheap as you like and consequently it tastes like dirt. Would we prefer burgers and chips? Well, the answer is: possibly, it doesn't make a difference. School chips and burgers also taste pretty manky. You can't win really, school meals will always be rubbish, fresh or no, chips or no.
I am very upset at this action taken by the labour government. Ruth Kelly does not have a clue what it is like to be a student in the 21st century. How many students did she ask before she did this? We should have some say on what we eat. I have 5 hours of hard lessons a day but I keep awake and in control by having a small meal at break which is called "junk food". The Labour government which by the way I used to support and always had full intention on voting for in later years, does not know anything about what is best for students. They should re-think their choice and ask some kids what they think.
Jonathan bell, Huntingdon, England
It is good in theory but it will be difficult to enforce. We need a joined-up policy approach: tax breaks and incentives for sports activities, tax on unhealthy foods and subsidies for healthy foods. Healthier school meals and vending machine snacks only form a small part of a wider policy.
Neeraj, Farnborough, Hants
This is all very well but most kids seem to take pack up for lunch, which I would bet has at least some "junk" food in it, how is the nanny state going to control this I wonder.
Michael Mciver, Hastings, England
A ban can only go so far - remember parents control most of the child's eating habits. At my school pricing is a major factor - there is usually a burger or sausage and chips option, but there is a much cheaper healthy option. Whilst some people will always stick to burgers (and let's face it if the school scrapped them they'd just go to the local chippy), the vast majority of people who would previously have either now opt for the healthier option.
Tom, Lincs, UK
The argument that the kids will only go and buy junk food in the local shops doesn't hold water, when you stop and think about it. By that logic, schools should be selling cigarettes to children old enough to buy them, and alcoholic drinks to over-eighteens. So what if they can go and buy the stuff elsewhere? At least they'll get some exercise from the walk!
David Hazel, Fareham, UK
My daughter is now 5 years old. We have always provided a healthy balanced diet at home as well as a packed lunch. The government provided free fruit during snack time every day along with the children bringing in their own fruit/vegetables. Fizzy drinks and sweets are banned at lunchtimes and there is no vending machine in sight. However some parents are still stuffing their kids lunchboxes with chocolates and crisps.
Ash, High Wycombe
Having spent three years as a support worker in local secondary schools, I believe that not just the type of food provided, but the whole method of serving school meals needs to revert back to the far more civilised and disciplined way of pupils sitting down at tables and being served "proper" food, instead of being allowed to choose what they eat and then wander around eating it. They should also have to clean up after themselves and participate in a washing-up rota. This would eliminate the litter problem caused by the current method.
Mike, Ivybridge, UK
When my daughters started primary school they were not allowed to bring in any sweets, fizzy drinks or crisps. As they had always been brought up to eat fresh veg and fruit this was not a problem for them but it also educated every child from this very young age that there were tasty alternatives for snacks. They are 19 and 18 now, and their preference is still for fresh, healthy food, even as university students. A combination of parental and school influence is the reason, but then it is for every aspect of behaviour.
Lynne, Newbury, Berks
My son has started secondary school and takes a healthy packed lunch but would prefer to be able to have hot meals. He does not like chips and "children's" food such as nuggets etc and so has little choice in the canteen. In addition, other than a machine selling water, the only choices he gets from vending machines are chocolate, crisps etc. Where are his rights to buy the foods that he wants? If he becomes peckish he has to buy unhealthy snacks.
Sara, Kent, UK
Is anyone going to ban the staff from celebrating birthdays etc with chocolates, cake and biscuits? I was recently in a school which had been awarded 'healthy eating' status. All children bought in healthy snacks at break time while the staff ate chocolate in the staff room!
Hang on a minute, vending machines? I had no idea that schools had vending machines and I'm only 34. How about taking them out of schools altogether thus denying children the opportunity to buy rubbish at breaktime? Or is that a bit too obvious and easy?
Sue Lee, Twickenham, UK
I back this move 100%. I would also like to see all schools offer a choice of hot and cold meals.
I hope Ms Kelly is not going to be over simplistic. Cheese contains many nutrients and has health and dental benefits and yet is over 10% fat. Taken in the recommended portion and size it benefits the diet.
Christian Fox, Salisbury, Wiltshire
I think that junk food advertising between children's' TV programmes should also be banned.
Peter Barraclough, Sheffield, UK
Perhaps if vending machines are removed, and the standard school menu is healthy, we can kill two birds with one stone. For each good piece of work, the pupils earn a credit. For each misbehaviour they loose a credit. Enough credits get you a burger and a pack of sweets. Get the balance right and job done. Well behaved pupils eating well.
Ian Bonham, Gibraltar