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The BBC's James Westhead
"Ministers are worried overly strict rules will produce meals children won't eat"
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Jennifer John, British Potato Council & Dr Tim Lang
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Tuesday, 14 December, 1999, 08:27 GMT
School meals plan under fire

pupils eating Children would not get chips more than three times a week

Government plans to introduce "healthy eating" school dinners have been criticised by a committee of MPs.

Labour wants to introduce new minimum legal standards for all school meals in England, almost 20 years after the Conservatives scrapped them.

But the House of Commons Education Select Committee, which published its report on school meals on Tuesday, has criticised the plans as vague and unworkable.

fruit The guidelines say fresh fruit should be offered at least twice a week
The government's new standards include proposals to ban serving baked beans in primary schools more than once a week and chips more than three times a week.

The guidelines - due to come into force from 2001 - also say fish must be an option at least once a week, red meat not more than three times a week, and that fresh fruit should be on offer at least twice a week.

Lure of junk food

But the committee argues that banning individual foods is the wrong approach, which will do little to draw children away from junk food.

It is siding with health promoters such as the National Heart Forum (NHF) which says the plans will not stop children eating pizzas, for example, whenever chips are not on the menu.

The NHF also says the plans will not stop caterers cooking so-called healthy food in an unhealthy way.

Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman: "Basic standards have to be based on something"
And it believes that rules about the quantity of nutrients that people should consume would be more effective than bans on particular foods.

Health campaigners want the nutrional content of all food served in schools to be calculated by computer.

But the government is worried that strict rules on food content would make it hard to provide meals pupils want to eat.

Committee Chairman Barry Sheerman (Lab, Huddersfield), said: "A lot of the evidence that we got suggested that if we are going to go for basic standards, they have to be based on something, and a lot of the evidence did suggest that had to be a fundmental basic minimum of nutritional ingredients in the food."

However, there have been no signs that the government will amend its proposals, which were first published earlier this year.

Ministers believe establishing nutritional school menus will encourage parents to have their children eat in school.

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See also:
09 Dec 99 |  Education
Call to end school meals stigma
10 Nov 99 |  Education
School canteens 'too dowdy'
06 Jul 99 |  Education
School dinners for MPs
26 Apr 99 |  Education
'No worries' over children's diet

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