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Monday, 17 July, 2000, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
School dinners: Are standards too low?

If children could they'd have chips with everything, but should we be tougher on ensuring they are encouraged to have a balanced diet at school?

New guidelines setting out minimum nutritional standards for school meals in England have been criticised for not going far enough.

The government wants to encourage a balanced diet for children and will make more healthy options available, but they have shied away from restricting the amount of chips, beans and red meat on the menu.

With as many as 40% of children arriving at school without eating breakfast, do you think the government should be making more of an effort to regulate what ends up on pupils' plates? Tell us what you think. HAVE YOUR SAY

We have a very high take-up of school meals

Graham Follett, UK
In our school, where I am the bursar, we went Grant Maintained in 1993, allowing us to take all our services - grounds keeping, cleaning, and catering in-house. This has been an enormous benefit to the school and, in the case of catering, particularly to the children. We have a very high take-up of school meals. There are always three, sometimes as many as five, choices of main courses, always including a vegetarian option and a choice of hot or cold. Although they are dealing with about 300 children, the kitchen staff can always find time to sort out something different to suit particular tastes.
Graham Follett, UK

The new nutritional guidelines pander to the meat and dairy industries, as if meat and dairy are the best foods to provide protein. When teenagers are developing arteriosclerosis and men are dying of heart disease in their twenties, isn't it time we weaned ourselves off the animal fat and protein diets? Getting our youngsters off the "meat is essential" bandwagon will ultimately have benefits in reducing the strain on the NHS by helping to prevent people becoming patients.
Nige, UK

I think school dinners are really bad value for money. You get burger, chips and a drink, maybe a pudding and it costs at least 2.00!!
Gemma, England

It would seem that not only are we taking no account of the types of food available to our children in school but also, we have paid scant attention to its quality. It's reported that we were feeding them MRM (Mechanically Recovered Meat) which my local butcher assures me was recovered from the oldest cows, slaughtered at the end of their useful life. In the light of what we now know, we could not have chosen a higher risk source of the BSE material. I well remember banning "slurry" pies, cheap sausages and burgers and school dinners for my family in the 80's and 90's on the grounds that there was no knowing what rubbish was in them.
John Brownlee, England

As parents we should take sufficient interest in our kids' diets, together with fitness and exercise. Looking at the size and shape of many of the members of the government, I certainly wouldn't put my trust in them to do anything.
Gary, England

When I was at school in the late-1960s and the 1970's, school dinners were uniformly awful! Everyone who could, took sandwiches; we used to pity those who had to eat the school food, and would give them stuff out of our packed lunches. School dinners in the 'seventies represented institutionalised catering at its' worst.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK


There is nothing wrong with chips - they are a highly nutritious food, full of starch which children and everyone else need for energy

David Cook, UK
There is nothing wrong with chips - they are a highly nutritious food, full of starch which children and everyone else need for energy. Potatoes are also a rich source of vitamin C, and a certain amount of vegetable fibre. The fat they are fried in is also a rich source of energy. Any objections to consumption of chips resulting in a diet undesirably high in fat are met by a realisation that fat is an essential part of a balance diet, and that in any case if chips are fried in vegetable oil, this not only provides a source of polyunsaturated fat, but reduces the saturated fat intake associated with frying in lard or beef dripping. Eating them together with a source of quality protein (such as chicken or fish) and vegetables such as mushy peas improves the situation even further.
David Cook, UK

School dinners were all right when I was a kid, and well worth paying for. Lots of kids got them free, of course, and they got value for money. Then along came the Tory Government with its determination to damage anyone who didn't vote for it, such as people on low incomes, entitled to free school meals. So it abolished minimum nutritional standards for school meals. Result: school meals became poorer, or costs increased for those who paid. They, in turn, started to take in sandwiches or go home for lunch. Result: there was less money to spend on meals for those getting them free, and the standards fell again. Well done for re-introducing some nutritional standards: let's hope they stay and get upgraded on a regular basis.
ST, UK


Our school dinners were fantastic

Michael Devlin, Ireland
Our school dinners were fantastic. Not only were they really tasty but looking back now, I can see that they were wholly nutritious as well. If schools employed better cooks then they would be able to make tasty, wide ranging, healthy dishes that children would want to eat.
Michael Devlin, Ireland

Many companies I have worked for, take a keen interest in ensuring that chips are only on the menu once per week and spend time preparing alternatives such as rice, noodles, pasta etc. These tend to be planned by dieticians. Why don't LEA's provide this service for schools, as I'm sure they used to do? However, I suppose the decades of privatisation have allowed in companies who have shoddy planning and are only interested in the bottom line and not in the children. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of Parent Governors to dictate what is served and it is parents who need to make their feelings known en masse that we don't want another chip shop in school.
Mark, Germany

The bulk of the comments about school meals seem to relate to "those poor people who can't afford..." An apple costs the same (if not less) than a Mars bar. Making sandwiches at home is cheaper than buying them. Preparing a packed lunch at home is cheaper than buying a meal out. What is lacking is the imagination to pack more than a bag of crisps, a bar of chocolate and a handful of boiled sweets.
John B, UK


Academic standards are crucial but so is nutrition - they are all part of the preparation for life and I don't think you can separate one from the other

Ruth, Cumbria, UK
If 40% of pupils arrive at school without breakfast, the responsibility must lie with the parents. As a parent of twins soon to start school, I am dismayed by what is on offer for school dinners especially with regard to fat and sugar content. Yes, academic standards are crucial but so is nutrition - they are all part of the preparation for life and I don't think you can separate one from the other. Schools should set an example.
Ruth, Cumbria, UK

How many adverts are there on children's television for carrots and sprouts? How many roast dinners on the soaps? Children want to eat what they have been shown is important - junk food jingles and peer pressure matter more to them than the brief pontificating of junk-food eating teachers and parents. It's pointless paying for 'healthy' school dinners if children don't want them.
Clive P. Mitchell, UK

For the price of a pint of beer you can make a packed lunch containing a healthy sandwich, an apple, some vegetables and a chocolate bar for variety. Let's get off the "too expensive" bandwagon.
Harry Peterson, UK


Why do guidelines always seem to lag ten years behind current opinion?

Tony Haslam, UK
Why do guidelines always seem to lag ten years behind current opinion? There is a growing trend towards vegetarianism and veganism in the UK, by people who understand the link between food and health. So why are these alternative choices not being encouraged? In particular, why is dairy food being promoted as an essential part of the diet when there is a growing body of evidence showing links between dairy products and illnesses such as allergies and I.B.S.?
Tony Haslam, UK

All this healthy eating rubbish is yet another brain washing exercise by our government and it's school system. It is about time that MP's just got on with the job of running the country, not moulding our children into their simplistic version of a 'model citizen'.
Ian Thomas, England

Most careers seem to be spent in front of the computer, these days, why is it necessary to have healthy foods? If we increase the sport played in schools it will give the children a purpose to eat a more healthy diet, and could mean that for once we have a few athletes capable of winning something.
Dave Watson, UK


I was at school in the seventies, we never got chips; rather we were fed 'meat and two veg' each day

Alex C., UK
With so many families in the UK living below the poverty threshold, surely there has to be a case for schools providing food which is wholesome and nourishing, instead of the junk food that is now served to many school children. All this started since the public funding 'cuts' in the eighties. I was at school in the seventies, we never got chips; rather we were fed 'meat and two veg' each day, We were told that this might be the main meal of the day for many children from poorer families. That might sound a bit austere, but with the ever increasing levels of obesity in society these days, is the current situation the right one for kids to adopt?
Alex C., UK

It is virtually impossible to eat healthily these days. Most food is processed and much is marketed in a totally irresponsible way. For example the low fat yoghurt I am eating is 30% sugar! Despite this I feel that these guidelines are a positive step.
Philip Levy, UK

When kids can have 100g of chips at school, they tend to eat 500g the junk food at home. Schools are supposed the places where students learn about leading a healthy life. That's also why they have PE lessons as well.
Sean KY Lam, Hong Kong


I'm fed up being told what we can and can't do by the Government.

Wendy, UK
I'm fed up being told what we can and can't do by the Government. There is a wealth of information on diet and nutrition for parents to educate themselves with. We keep hearing reports on what's healthy and what's not and it changes so frequently, we'll probably hear that chips are good for us next week. If we listened to all the advice out there, we'd all starve.
Wendy, UK

If they make school dinners disgusting then nobody will have them at all which has to be even more unhealthy than having pizza and chips.
Ian Skidmore, England

Surely school meals should be setting a good example of a "square" meal? Many children don't get this, or at best, just get "junk" food. While we're on the subject of nutrition, why not re-introduce free school milk, or pure fruit juice during lunchtime meals - (like we used to get)? Better surely than fizzy drinks?
Phil W, UK

Before people start interfering with school dinners, let us not forget that for some kids, that is probably the ONLY meal they will get that day, so giving them rabbit food to eat would be not really be a good idea at all.
Mark, England

'The Government shied away' - how come we keep hearing that one, always doing little but never enough. They talk about tough decisions but don't make them. Kids are the future - they are the voters of tomorrow - the parents the voters of today - another issue dodged! Maybe another long spell on the opposition benches will help them open their ears to the voters and not the concerns of business.
Dave, Wales


Some children are so poor that school meals are the only meals they ever get

Jeff, USA
Standards should definitely be higher with regards to school meals for two reasons. Children are not mature enough to choose food that is healthy and some children are so poor that school meals are the only meals they ever get.
Jeff, USA

Parents should first and foremost feed their children a good and healthy breakfast and a good and healthy dinner, with fruit for snacks. Then they can complain about the terrible food in schools. We never had chips or pizza in my school, but since my parents fed me proper food at home I gratefully accepted proper food in school.
Christine, UK

Chips are okay if they are cooked properly. Deep-frying is a sure way to damage your health.
Richard Baldwin, Holland (ex-pat UK)

In High School I ate whatever I wanted for lunch. However, once I joined the school swimming team it was made clear to me that eating a healthy diet was part of the training plan. Lots of salad, protein and pasta but no chips. Preaching about nutrition is no good unless there is a purpose to go with it.
Jon Livesey, USA

What on earth is the point of introducing guidelines if you don't try to control the nutritional content of school food? Chips with everything might be popular, but it's hardly calculated to stem the rising tide of obesity in the school population of the UK. My view is that the Government should encourage schools to re-establish kitchens, get rid of disgusting cook-chill food, put cookers back in classrooms, and let schools take a stand on one of the major contributing factors for a long and healthy life - a good diet.
Guy Chapman, UK

When I was at school I always took sandwiches. In fact I only had school dinners twice! If parents are so concerned that school dinners don't provide enough nutrition then do what my parents did - make a packed lunch.
Tony, UK

New menus should be used but healthy options should be exciting and tasty - not salad and vegi.
Dominic, UK


If you think school food is bad you should see what they serve up in hospital

Kate, England
If you think school food is bad you should see what they serve up in hospital. I have spent the last 6 months living off hospital canteen food, most of it is drenched in fat, or covered in cheese. In fact the chips and beans are probably the healthiest items on the menu!
Kate, England

Once again Blair's thought police try to force their ideals onto the masses. Let the little brats eat chips if they want.
Vernon Bigg, UK

Coming from the west of Scotland, I know all about bad diets, especially in lower income families (chip butties, deep-fried Mars bars etc). People should not be forced into anything but we should at least educate kids to like healthier food from an early age. It need not be more expensive and it would improve people's lives no end.
Paul, UK

Whinge, whinge, whine. Nobody is giving my kid enough fruit and veg when I don't bother myself. If schools are forced to serve exclusively "boring" food the kids will go to the nearest fast food outlet.
Peter B, UK

In my day (I'm now 36), there was no choice, you got whatever they served up, which was sometimes chips, but probably only once a week. Two years at a boarding school meant school meals three times a day!
Keith Lomax, UK

It is the parents' responsibility to ensure the quality and variety of their children's diets. A school is there to feed the mind and its focus should be on quality teaching. Feeding the stomach is an "extra" and should be achieved as cheaply as possible. If this should not be the ideally nutritionally balanced meal, let the parents take this into consideration when arranging the rest of the child's menu and let them bear the cost.
Jenni, UK

Why are children arriving for school with no breakfast for a start? The parents of these children need educating too! At primary school I always took a packed lunch of a chicken leg, a marmite sandwich, some soup and an apple. Producing that sort of food in a canteen can't be that much more difficult that chips and beans.
Harriet , UK


As well as teaching literacy and numeracy, education should also tackle health and nutrition.

John, UK
As well as teaching literacy and numeracy, education should also tackle health and nutrition. The latter should start with the menu in the school canteen. The Government must issue sensible guidelines. Family doctors should also be more proactive in matters of nutrition. Kids cannot rely upon parents. Too many adults themselves have unhealthy diets.
John, UK

I am far more worried about what the state education establishment is putting into children's minds than their stomachs. It's a lot easier to cook your child a healthy meal in the evening than to undo all the 'social conditioning' they get at school every day. We should be focussing on that.
Judith, England

The meals at my school were, and continue to be, extremely good in every way. The food was prepared well, was nutritious and represented very good value for money. For further parental reassurance, chips and beans weren't on the menu. Thus my parents knew I was getting a good meal every day.
Alex S, UK

If as many as 40% of children are arriving at school without breakfast, should we not be concentrating on re-educating the parents and children, rather than hassling the government to do something about it? My daughter will be starting school soon, and will be receiving free school dinners as we receive benefits. It would never occur to me, however, that I could send her to school without breakfast just because she was going to get a meal at school! I have always assumed that the majority of adults realised the importance of breakfast...maybe I'm wrong?
Jenny, England

I like chips and they are okay if supplemented with enough fresh fruit and vegetables.
Zheljko Stanimirovic, Yugoslavia


My children come home with horror stories about undercooked food on the few days that we don't send their lunch with them

Mike A, UK
The problem with the healthiness of school meals is not just what's on the menu, it's how it's cooked. My children come home with horror stories about undercooked food on the few days that we don't send their lunch with them. If cooking standards can't be improved, maybe it's a good thing they're reducing the amount of red meat served!
Mike A, UK

Surely it's the parents responsibility to ensure that their kids get a proper meal. Council house kids shouldn't be prevented from eating lard and chips. Parents should be consulted but I don't see why we should allow the Government to become involved. After all they have too much control over our lives as it is.
Dr. S, UK

If children cannot eat what they want for school dinners, they will pressurise their family into making them sandwiches or other packed lunches instead. Education is needed but don't force them to have something they don't want.
Gregory White, Yorkshire, England


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See also:

12 Jul 00 | Education
What schools should serve
22 Jun 00 | Education
Pupils' diets a 'disgrace'


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