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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Cookery lessons back in schools
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly
Ruth Kelly has promised to stop junk food in schools
Teenagers are to be given cookery lessons, as part of the government's drive to get healthier eating in England's schools.

The government's advisory panel has also announced its rules for school meals, in a bid to eliminate junk food.

These specifications, requiring fresh fruit, vegetables and oily fish, will be compulsory from next September.

But additional rules on the nutritional content in school meals are to be phased in over the next four years.


The move to introduce cookery lessons in secondary schools will be part of a review of technology classes for 11 to 14 year olds - with pupils to be given lessons in food preparation, diet, food safety and hygiene.

The panel is convinced that cooking is an essential life-skill and that no child should leave school unable to cook for themselves
Review panel report
The School Meals Review Panel says: "Improved food knowledge should include practical cooking skills so that children and young people who are now at school can, in their turn, look after themselves and their own families ...."

Its report notes: "Children fed a monotonous diet of poor quality, predominantly processed food do not thrive."

Children aged eight to 16 spend almost 550m per year, equivalent to 1.75 a day each, on chocolate, crisps, confectionery and canned drinks on their way to and from school
Review panel report
It says the current "crisis" in school food is the result of years of public policy failure.

"Financial pressures and the fragmentation of school catering, together with a lack of strict standards, have resulted in the type of school meal we see too often today."

So the panel was delighted the government had recognised the problem, with "a groundswell of public opinion".

"All school food should be good food. School meals should be an important source of nutrition for children, especially those from low income households," said the head of the panel, Suzi Leather.

The panel says children should receive not less than two portions of fruit and vegetables per child per day, oily fish on a regular basis, easy access to fresh drinking water and limits on choice to ensure children cannot opt out of healthy food.

National audit

There will also be "stringent nutrient-based standards" which will define the nutrients, vitamins and minerals required for primary school meals by 2008 and secondary schools by 2009.

Most school catering staff are cooking or re-heating pre-prepared foods ... real cooking skills are seldom required and have often been lost
Review panel report
The panel heard evidence that a sudden change could lead to a decline in the take-up of meals, currently around 43% nationally.

Countering this would need strong marketing and support among pupils and parents, and changing schools' cultures took time and careful planning.

The culture of "social management" in primary schools, with less emphasis on free choice, meant implementing new standards should be relatively straightforward.

But secondary schools had a cafeteria culture in which many pupils opt for unhealthy combinations "and deliberately avoid healthier foods".

The panel said better food would cost more: it estimated 167.2m in the first year and 158.8m per year thereafter.

Parents may have to pay much higher prices for school meals
Local Authorities Caterers Association

And it estimated the capital cost of making kitchens and dining rooms "fit for purpose" would be 289m.

It said 13% of schools had no kitchen facilities.

The government is providing a total of 220m specifically for school meals over three years.

The education secretary says this is transitional funding to support change but "it is clear that more money needs to be levered into the system".

She expected local authorities "to lead debate" about how to find this.

The government has also announced a national audit to find how much is spent on meal ingredients, whether children get hot or cold meals and the percentage of pupils who buy school meals.

Food technology, which is taught as part of design and technology, is compulsory in primary schools but optional in secondary schools.

Shadow schools minister Mark Hoban accused the government of "an endless diet of re-heated announcements and half-baked gimmicks".

He said tighter standards must be backed by sufficient resources.

Pupils at one school say they enjoy healthier dinners

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