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The BBC's Marc Settle
on the model meal of the future
 real 28k

Thursday, 22 June, 2000, 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK
Pupils' diets a 'disgrace'
group of pupils eating school meals
School lunch: How healthy is your child's diet?
A senior Labour MP has branded the diets of many schoolchildren a "disgrace".

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, said the lack of nutritious food eaten by many pupils had a serious impact on their ability to learn, as well as on their long-term health.

He is calling on the government to spend more money on school meals to help improve the situation.

Speaking during a Commons debate on school meals, he said: "If they want better food, they cannot flinch from the fact that better food does mean more expense, and that means a greater budget for schools for that service."

Last year, the government published plans to improve standards of school meals.

girl eating school meal
Children's diets have to be attractive and nutritious

Labour wants to introduce new minimum legal standards for all school meals in England.

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.

'Vague' plans

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.

But in its report on school meals, the committee criticised the plans as vague and unworkable.

It argued that banning individual food was the wrong approach, which would do little to draw children away from junk food.

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

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

And it believes that rules about the quantity of nutrients that people should consume would be more effective than bans on particular foods.

Free meals

During Thursday's debate, Tory MP Nick St Aubyn acknowledged that chips, beans, sausages and burgers should not be removed from school menus altogether, as children's diets had to be attractive to them as well as nutritious.

But he said: "There can be no doubt that well-fed children, those who've had something for breakfast before they come into class, those who have nutritious food during the day, are going to be more capable of concentration on their studies."

A number of MPs called on the government to reinstate free school meals for all pupils, to help improve children's diets and school results.

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See also:

14 Dec 99 | Education
School meals plan under fire
09 Dec 99 | Education
Call to end school meals stigma
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