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Last Updated: Friday, 19 May 2006, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
School meals 'part of good diet'
school canteen
Dieticians say a balanced diet is the key
New guidelines for healthier school meals will help reverse a rise in childhood obesity and establish better eating habits, dieticians say.

Meals high in salt and fat have been banned from schools in England, after a government review of school dinners.

Pupils will get "a minimum" of two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal, while deep-fried food will be restricted to two portions per week.

Experts say the guidelines must be seen in the context of a balanced diet.

Carol Weir, a dietician who represented the British Dietetic Association on the School Meal Review Panel, said the guidance was not about giving pupils unpopular choices.

"We're not denying them their favourite foods - we want them to enjoy lots of different foods," said Ms Weir.

"Chips are still there twice a week and there will still be desserts and good old school puddings.

"But rather than having chips five times a week, it's about controlling that."

Obesity rates rising

Ms Weir said, with a growing number of people developing weight problems and the associated ill effects on health, schools were key players in promoting the healthy eating message.

"Schools can do a lot to help children learn and establish healthy eating habits.

Children eating school dinner
School meals have been criticised for their poor nutritional content

"We have to look at this in the broader context - 60% of the adult population in England are classified as overweight and/or obese.

"So we're not talking about a problem that's specific to children."

Ms Weir said the scheme was a "two-pronged" approach, in that it would encourage children to educate their parents about good eating habits.

"We're educating children to take those messages home," she said.

Getting the balance

Chef and restaurateur Ed Baines said there was a place for fried foods in children's diets, but only as part of a balanced eating programme.

"You get an instant boost of energy with that kind of food, it's an instant hit on your taste buds," said Mr Baines.

"The whole thing with eating correctly is having a balanced diet and that's what's important."

Last year the government promised 280m to improve school meals, following a campaign by TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve the quality of school dinners.

See what is being served up in schools

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