Skip to main content
Where I Live
A-Z Index

BBC News

BBC Election 2005

Watch the BBC Election News
  • Election news alerts
  • Email services
  • Mobiles/PDAs
  • News for your site
Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
How can school meals be made healthier?
Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver serves up a healthy school dinner to pupils from Ealdham Primary School, Greenwich, in Leicester Square, London
The government is to invest an extra 280m over three years to improve school lunches following a campaign by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

At least 50p will be spent on each primary school lunch and 60p in secondaries with a new School Food Trust set up to advise schools and parents on healthy menus.

In his Channel 4 series, Jamie Oliver has criticised the standards of school catering with one London school spending only 37p per child per day on primary school lunches - less than the cost of prison dinners.

What do you think of Jamie Oliver's campaign? What are your school meals like? Will the government's money make a difference? How can the quality of school meals be improved?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

The following comments reflect the balance of views received so far:

This topic was suggested by Meg, UK:
Should it take a TV series and the intervention of celeb Jamie Oliver to get the government to finally act on the issue of school meals?

You watch the wholesale cost of ingredients to the schools go up now that there is another 220 million in the trough. It wouldn't surprise me if a meal that cost 37p to make before the money becomes available will cost nearer 50p afterwards.
Richard Harris, Bracknell

If parents were genuinely concerned about the nutritional value of school meals, it would not have taken a celebrity chef to change the situation! Had people been that worried, packed lunches would have been vastly exceeding the number of bought lunches in schools. Yes, packed lunches are time consuming, but surely worth the extra 10 minutes in the morning to know that your child has a healthy, well-balanced lunch every day. Also, once children get a little older, somehow they manage to pack their own healthy lunches, I know I did.
CMH, Scotland

Have I missed something here? 20 years ago we took dinner money to school to pay for the meals and even then it was around 50p. Of course, families on income support would get this paid for. But it goes to show how the funding has completely gone from the service and health is suffering.
Nick, UK

Great! If it takes celebrity endorsements to get things moving, how about a How Clean is Your House hospital special?
Tania, Crawley, UK

Jamie Oliver as a chef, must have a pretty good idea of nutrition and diet. If someone from within the profession thinks things are wrong, then they are.
John, Watford, UK

Why does the government need to spend 60 million on a school food trust? This is just another Blair job creation scheme for his cronies and adds no value to our children. Still 220 million is better than nothing!
Alan Whitfield, Cowes Isle of Wight

Never heard of Jamie Olive until now. When I was a kid my mom would pack a solid lunch, 2 chicken leg pieces, rice and vegetables and some veg gravy, enough to feed my own face and any friend I chose to share it with. Can you Brit moms do the same? Just for the record 50p will feed a kid breakfast, lunch and dinner in Bangalore.
Pritam Shetty, Bangalore, India

Over the last 20 years as a teacher in a number of London schools I have witnessed some truly appalling junk offered to children in the guise of school meals. Teachers invariably won't eat it (they take to the staff room with their sarnies or heat up last night's leftovers from home in the microwave) so why should our children have to put up with it? Food does impact on behaviour and, in the one rare instance where a Food Technology teacher insisted on some changes (i.e. fruit juice instead of fizzy drinks and a ban on the more highly processed foods) there was a marked difference. Well done Jamie Oliver, we look forward to seeing the fruits of your labour!
Pat H, London UK

At least you have a celebrity trying to use his fame to improve the lot of schoolchildren. As for improving school meals, that's an investment. Maybe if there are obvious and documented positive changes in children's health as a result of this campaign, the US will follow suit and we can get our own epidemic of childhood obesity, hypertension, and type II diabetes under control. I'll be watching.
Allie, North Carolina, USA

I think it is wrong for people to be trying to introduce healthier meals in school canteens. Part of the fun of being a kid is getting to eat junk food, and it tastes so much better. Let's be honest when you are young you burn off a lot of calories anyway, so you might as well enjoy what you eat.
Garry, Dumfries

Surely the feeding of children is the responsibility of the parents
Kevin Whitefoot, Svelvik, Norway
Why should schools provide food at all? Surely the feeding of children is the responsibility of the parents and then the money could be spent on education. Here in Norway the schools generally set a standard for what is acceptable in a lunchbox but it is up to the parents to provide it. And lastly the parents of those children currently receiving free school meals should surely simply get slightly more benefits so that they can provide lunch. This would be much cheaper for the state to maintain with less bureaucracy.
Kevin Whitefoot, Svelvik, Norway

Jamie should tackle work places next as the problem does not stop at school. At my workplace canteen where everyone is over 18, many will always have sausages, beans and chips. Even though there's salad, jacket spuds, sandwiches made to order, traditional dishes and foreign dishes available. I have a few of my fellow colleagues eat this 'typical school dinner' stuff and they do not perform as well as before lunch and become more tired easily.

Anyone on this page who has the audacity to criticise Jamie Oliver should be ashamed of themselves. You should all be forced to eat the so-called food that is being served up to our kids, I for one wouldn't give this muck to my dog!!
Vern, London

Although I agree that the new money for school meals improvement is a good thing it will need a big change in attitude by society to ensure that children will want to eat more nutritious meals. They may not if they are used to unhealthy eating at home. We cannot force children to eat what is good for them.
Keith Wilson, Melton Mowbray

Well Done Jamie! You have shamed them into action. We need a whole 'change management' process to get us all into a state of vitality eating: They must cut advertising of junk food, labelling food, education of results of long term eating of rubbish food, plus engage all the food chain from growers to retailers to cooks and all the bad influences from parents, and others who should know better. Then we need a Beckham to do the same for sport and a Geldoff to do it for music. Then maybe our kids will start to look and be a bit more happier.
Garth Spiers, Brighton, UK

Thank goodness Jamie is being listened to. The children in Greenwich where I live are loving their new dinners - their behaviour is calmer and they are more alert. Next to tackle would be hospital food on children's wards. It is of the same dire quality as school dinners used to be pre-Jamie. Our local hospital serves up potato happy faces, burgers, pizza and chicken nuggets to long-term sick, and short-stay patients. How can they get well eating junk food?
Janie, London

It's a bit disingenuous to complain that the government's announcement of more funds was prompted by Jamie's programme, or that it is just a cynical election ploy. From what I've read, considerable research and planning must have gone into the detail that was announced.
Tim Douglas, London, UK

"Sir Jamie" should be on the cards for the next honours list
Ian Moffatt, Harlow, UK
"Sir Jamie" should be on the cards for the next honours list. He won't give in after the election - unlike some of our politicians. 280m over 3 years? What happens in year 4? This country can afford to give all schoolchildren at least one good, healthy meal each day. Parents must also play their part.
Ian Moffatt, Harlow, UK

Perhaps Jamie could get school meals back in West Sussex. They were stopped by the county council about 6 years ago. There are no hot meals in schools now!
Paula, Horsham, West Sussex

Thanks Jamie, action at last. Now can someone give a celebrity a mop and bucket and film them cleaning a hospital?
Nick Hemsley, Ely, UK

The Government's plans are all well and good, but wait and see who will be sitting on the "School Food Trust"... don't be surprised if the current suppliers of the junk food have some representation.... then it will be government sanctioned junk food!
Stu Coates, Chelmsford, Essex

What about the children of Wales? Although a vast improvement, the prisoners in this country get 70p per meal, this is surely unbalanced.
Caroline Joy, Margam, Wales

Aah - the power of "celebrity". I wasn't aware that Jamie Oliver had a degree in nutrition/dietetics. How is he qualified to be even talking about nutrition ?
Glenn Lennox, Nottingham, UK

School meals just need to return to how they were in the 50/60/70s when a well-balanced, two course meal was provided every day. There was no choice except to eat it or go without and I never saw anyone go without. They were used to the same choice in the home! Perhaps nowadays a vegetarian option should be provided for the first course with many puddings being vegetarian anyway.
Tina Clifford, Newton Abbot, Devon

Forget School Food Trusts and give the money to schools direct
Mike Coyle, London, UK
I think Jamie Oliver is to be thanked by everyone in this country for his passion about improving the health of our children. That said, this controlling government will waste huge sums of money setting up more quango's instead of putting the money into schools. Remove all the large corporations involved in providing re-heated rubbish for children to eat. Forget School Food Trusts and give the money to schools direct and let them and their own catering staff provide varied, quality school meals. Less government interference and incompetence would be most welcome. Welcome though it is, it is not government money being invested, it is hard working tax payers' money. The up coming election has nothing to do with this sudden interest of course!
Mike Coyle, London, UK

I am Head of SCS, a not for profit school meals provider in Somerset. I am delighted to hear that money is finally going to be invested in the schools meals service where it is needed - on the plate. However, I would be interested to hear how this money is going to reach the many companies that provide the meals. The majority of schools do not "hold" budgets for school meals; this money is derived from the income received from sales of meals. Investment is also sorely needed in staff training and replacement equipment as was clearly demonstrated on Jamie's programme. It is time schools stopped viewing school meals as a revenue source; generally secondary schools receive a "payback" from the income derived from school meals. This money is not always re-invested in the meals service or anything to do with meals. Until this practice stops, there will always be a struggle to fund a high quality meals provision.

Incidentally, in Somerset we offer a meal in primary schools chosen from menus compiled using traditional dishes and prepared using locally sourced ingredients where possible. Our current budget for primary meals is 45p. We are already working with several secondary schools to make healthy changes to the meals offered. These changes take time and there is a significant risk of both the school and SCS losing money in the short term.
Julie Burnett, Taunton Somerset

Well done Jamie Oliver and also credit to the government for listening. Education should not be a narrow affair and what to eat (especially for primary school age) is as much a foundation for living well as the three R's.
Tony, E Sussex, UK

Shame on us! How can anyone whinge about Jamie Oliver's crusade to identify the needs of school age children. Back in the 70s we could not tell the difference between Stork and butter. Kids now can't tell the difference between rhubarb and leeks, is this poverty or parenting?
Angela Garrill, Lincolnshire

Children should only be allowed healthy food, otherwise they'll just choose to eat rubbish
Tim, London
It's a great idea. What's needed in school is not choice though. Children should only be allowed healthy food, otherwise they'll just choose to eat rubbish. It may seem a bit like the nanny state, but a person's eating habits are set when they're young, and children should be forced to eat healthily, whether they like it or not. Let them make up their own minds when they're older.
Tim, London

How much of this extra money will be going into the pockets of private catering companies? Too many schools have their hands tied. Governors complain that they are powerless to remove vending machines full of chocolate from their schools because to do so would breach their PFI contracts for the building management!! Insane and entirely down to this government. They should give control back to schools instead of just giving another 280M to Tony's mates in the private sector.
Jonathan Hill, England

As a school pupil myself I am really impressed with Jamie's efforts, as I see pupils from our school eating junk everyday especially the infamous "turkey twizzler". However, after a long term campaign by a few of our teachers and the publicity that Jamie's programme has attracted, our school is replacing the junk with healthier options such as risotto. They have also stopped kids who are entitled to free school meals from just buying cakes and biscuits, and the sandwich bar is still open to all pupils. I am really please that our school has adopted a new healthier menu and I am thankful that the TV programme has made people realise how awful our school meals are. Thanks Jamie!
Chloe, Deal, Kent

Good quality school dinners are not new. My mother was the senior dinner lady in a Hull school - a place said to have the highest obesity levels in the country - and at one time was the most qualified catering person for Humberside. I saw the menus that she offered children when she was working in the 70s and 80s. They were balanced, nutritious and very varied. Towards the end of her career, she said that the kids would rather go to 'the soup kitchen' and buy a cup of soup and a bag of crisps. It wasn't the schools that were failing the kids it was their parents.
Steve Pickard, London

Whilst I totally agree with Jamie Oliver's sentiments, do we honestly think he is doing this out of pure goodness? He does have a book out at the moment and more publicity than he knows what to do with. I know that change in the school meal system can only be good, but I have reservations about any pre-election promises and also about the self publicising agenda of a 'celebrity'.
Lesley, Glasgow

As a parent and governor, I have longed to be able to influence what my children eat whilst at school. At secondary, kids need at least 2 to have lunch which seems all too often be convenience food such as burger or pizza. It is no good parents telling their children to eat healthily as they have to fit in with the norm when in social groups. Only by providing good quality food that all the kids want to eat will this change. So well done Jamie and glad you were listened to.
Nick Hollis, Derby, England

Meals need to be made from fresh food only
Fiona Riley, Garstang, England
I taught "Domestic Science" starting in 1968. I have seen the clear erosion of food knowledge and the takeover by manufactured foodstuffs. Meals need to be made from fresh food only and only one choice as in Finland where every child receives a free school meal which I have found excellent. A hungry healthy child will eat what is on offer. Parents should get back to basic ingredient cooking and not indulge children in rubbish! My own 3 children were brought up on decent basic foodstuffs and in their 20s now are healthy adults.
Fiona Riley, Garstang, England

My wife works in the catering section of a prison and they spend approx. 1.40 per head on each inmate dinner, double what is proposed for young children at school.
Shaun, Nottingham

Talk about a nanny state and another 280m. Parents should take responsibility for their children's' nutrition, not the State. If they had done so in the first place, school meals wouldn't have deteriorated so much. Here we are again, having to pay twice because of local government greed and inefficiency. Why oh why don't people wake up and start taking responsibility for their own children?
Alison Townsend, Leicester, England

As a school, we opted out of Devon Services. This allowed us to shop local, provide a healthier option for our pupils and also allowed us to offer a good selection of meals each day. We can now offer a cooked meal, a vegetarian option and a salad selection. Our kitchen manager carefully selects the ingredients and ensures that we serve only the best quality foods for our pupils. You might ask how long this has been the case? We have provided the best for over 7 years. I just wanted to point out that schools have been trying to improve for many years.
Mrs C. White, Dawlish

My grandson Ollie recently started school. Because my son-in-law is on a low wage, Ollie is entitled to free school dinners. However, Ollie no longer has school dinners, he takes a packed lunch. The reason is that he was told off for not eating the "yucky" dinners he was given. My daughter cooks all the family meals using fresh ingredients. Ollie is by no means a fussy or faddy eater, he just prefers "real" food. What a shameful state of affairs when a four year old child can point out the difference between food and rubbish. What a pity the same cannot be said for the ministers running our children's schools.
Eileen, Somerset

If the kids don't get what they want, they will go to the local chippie anyway
Tom Steele, Glasgow, Scotland
Having worked in the school meals service I can say it is not the schools or the kids that are the problem, it's the parents. You can cook all the healthy food in the world, but unless you get parents buy in, you will not stop the junk food at schools. If the kids don't get what they want, they will go to the local chippie anyway. Jamie Oliver has only highlighted a problem that has been there for decades, and I fear will be there decades to come This is an election year, so all will be forgotten very soon.
Tom Steele, Glasgow, Scotland

As a teacher I wholeheartedly support Jamie Oliver's campaign. The quality of food in our school kitchens is frightening. I hope that this additional funding will also ensure that additives and preservatives are removed from food served to our children. In one school where I worked fizzy drinks were banned, still water was available across the school and students were encouraged to sip on water through the school day (including in lessons!). Both the behaviour and attention of students improved. I am also keen to ensure that fresh local produce is used. One of our local primary schools has won awards for using local produce at very little extra cost - transport and food 'processing' costs having been reduced. Well done Jamie. Keep up the pressure on government. Pukka!
Edward, Bristol

Can't we tell there is an election coming up? Get a celeb in groaning on about school dinners and Hey Presto, the government finds 280 million! In my day the dinners were awful too, but we didn't whine or moan about it, we just got on with it. Come on get real !
Paul Wilkins, UK

My children's primary school has consistently, for more than two years, ignored requests through the PTA to improve school meals. The typical menu is reconstituted meat products/plastic pizza / fries/beans with no fresh vegetables, fruit or salad available. Suddenly (and strangely just before a likely election) this becomes a major issue with almost one third of a billion available (from where???) to improve the situation. Call me cynical but this stinks of opportunism and chasing the "state education parents" vote.
Andy D, Oxford, UK

I don't think it will make any difference
My daughter's school dinners at a primary school in Lancashire usually consist of pizza and chips, hot dog and chips, chicken and potato balls. For pudding they sometimes have fruit, cakes or ice cream. They say one day they will give the children healthy foods. 280 million over three years - that's just over 90 million a year spread between thousands of children. I don't think it will make any difference.

I spoke to my local council and was told "We have to serve processed meals because we have an obligation to ensure that children who are entitled to free school meals eat them and a lot of these children won't eat fresh food". With this sort of defeatist, patronising attitude, I am not optimistic about the chances of meals in our area improving, but I live in hope!
Lisa Hermann, Trafford

I stopped my boys having school dinners as I couldn't afford 70 per month for the two of them. They have a healthy packed lunch and a dinner at home. It should be the responsibility of parents to feed their children, but for some parents it is not an option, either through lack of skills or financially. Well done Jamie, perhaps you can lend your weight to weightier issues like the economy, maybe some common sense would be put back into politics.
Paul, Kent, England

Typically, school meal catering companies in this area make 40-50% profit on this service. What is to stop them serving any old rubbish to increase profits still further? School meals should not be a profit making exercise.
Dave R, Grimsby

Some councils do not have the facilities to provide hot meals
Christine Robb, Horsham, W. Sussex
Great campaign. However, some councils do not have the facilities to provide hot meals - all school kitchens were closed several years ago in my area. Therefore any changes made will make little difference to these areas.
Christine Robb, Horsham, W. Sussex

I went to a school open evening last week, and noticed four huge vending machines filled with sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks. These machines also accept the children's' dinner-money cards as payment! Having seen these, it seems that the quality of the dinners is really a secondary issue.
Ron Levy, Rayleigh, UK

I wish they would take puddings off the menu at my son's infant school. They have too much choice and too many sweet things, and he is only at infants. By the way no mention on how much they are spending on infant school dinners was there? Obviously they don't care about that age group yet.
Nicky, Gatwick, UK

I go to secondary school, and although the food they offer is healthy, with full roast dinners and pasta and jacket potatoes, they also offer frozen pizza, hot dogs, burgers and cakes. My friends have pizza and cake for lunch, and I have only seen a couple of children having healthy meals. I myself have sandwiches, but the dinners in my primary school were revolting!
Anna , Birmingham, England

Successive governments have destroyed what was an excellent schools meals catering service. The staff were trained to City and Guilds Standards and each cook had precise operating procedures. We have sacrificed the standard of school meals over the past twenty years for the sake of paying less taxes.
Peter Walters, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire

People are asking why it took so long. I ask, why it took a celebrity chef rather than parents, teachers and governors to get on board with this. The reason? Children aren't the only ones eating badly. Do you think parents are feeding themselves green vegetables whilst giving turkey twizzlers to their kids? Of course not. We're all eating crud. Junk food culture needs to be challenged and changed, and if that means restrictions on purveyors of such food then tough.
Katherine, London, UK

Scrapping Labour's PFI deals which force schools to contract out catering to the lowest bidder and to install junk food and fizzy drink vending machines would help even more than this pre-election handout. Does it really take eight years to notice that we are feeding schoolchildren pigswill?
Tom, London

Primary schools in this area, including the one local to where I live don't even offer a hot meal service. Children have to take sandwiches and packed lunches to school. Is there going to be any money made available to reinstate hot meals at such schools? It seems very unfair that we are all going on about improving the quality of meals when many children don't even have access to a cooked meal, even in winter.
Janey, Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Healthy food need not be more expensive
Alison, Leeds, UK
There is a lot of work to be done, as many kids won't eat vegetables given to them, preferring chips and pizza. However, there is no excuse whatsoever for schools to continue to provide poor fair for the nation's future. The fact of the matter is that healthy food need not be more expensive and has been shown in many schools to improve behaviour - something that cannot be measured in pounds and pence.
Alison, Leeds, UK

Money will of course help, but bring back proper dinner ladies who know how to cook. It is no good ploughing in extra money only to be wasted on processed rubbish I wouldn't feed an animal. Real food made from scratch with fresh ingredients will be cheaper to produce. Bulk buying carrots, potatoes etc from local sources will cut costs and help not only the children but the local economy. Even better, take the children to local farms to show them where their lunches come from. It may surprise them to find out it doesn't come from a packet!
Karen Smith, London, UK

I wonder how much funding goes into subsidising government canteens in Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament. I understand that the meals are heavily subsidised. Not to mention all the catering for meetings and special events. I know for a fact that they don't have turkey twizzlers on the menu.

I don't think it is up to schools to feed children - that should be the responsibility of their parents. Scrap school dinners completely.
Pauline Fothergill, Halifax, West Yorkshire, UK

The problem started when school meals were contracted out
Brian Welsh, Aberdeen, UK
School meals have been in decline for last 25 years, certainly since I started higher education. It is a pity it has taken us so long. All parties are to blame. I believe the problem started when school meals were contracted out. Now if only all parents took some responsibility too and gave kids healthy meals at home.
Brian Welsh, Aberdeen, UK

It's a start but it needs to be part of a wider education programme involving parents. Schools should be clear not only about the nutritional value of what they provide, but what they expect parents to put in packed lunches. Parents who insist on continuing to poison their children should be held accountable.
Dejay, Maidstone, UK

Well done Jamie! I'm relieved to see this is actually in full sway now. It's just a pity that it took a television series to make people aware. There must be countless other issues that haven't come to our attention.
Ben, Cambridge

Jamie should receive some sort of recognition for this crusade. Surely, the health and well being of our children is worth more that 37p a day. Why has something not been done before? Well done Jamie, you are an inspiration.
Lisa Jones, Cardiff, South Wales

Isn't 50p per meal still less than we spend feeding our prison inmates? I wonder if the government would have responded to Jamie's campaign so soon if there wasn't an election just around the corner.
Ashley Hinton, Oxford, UK



The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites