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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 13:56 GMT
School meal changes bear fruit
Primary children will get free fruit

Children in the first two years of primary school are to be given free fruit in a bid to improve eating habits.

The move is part of Scottish Executive plans to invest 63m over the next three years to raise the nutritional standard of school meals and increase the size of portions.

The drive to improve school meals will adopt all the recommendations made by an expert panel which has been looking at the issue for the past year.

Free drinking water will be available to all pupils and there will be action to raise awareness of entitlement to free school meals.

Balanced diet

Some of the guidelines are being put in place immediately.

And if the current executive stays in power, it plans to set new rules for the nutritional content of school meals.

But the executive's plans have been criticised for failing to set school meal standards in law.

Announcing the drive, Education Minister Cathy Jamieson said free fruit would introduce children to the importance of a healthy, balanced diet at an early age.

Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm said: "School meal facilities will no longer advertise or promote food or drinks with a high fat or sugar content."

Half of all school pupils in Scotland take school meals, both paid and unpaid.

school meals
The aim is make school meals healthy
The cost of school meals is 87m, of which 30m is recovered from paid-for meals.

In 2001, 19% of pupils were entitled to free meals but only 15% took them.

Providing free fruit for the first two primary years is expected to cost the executive 2m in each of the next three years.

The rest of the package will cost 12.4m this year, rising to 21m next year and 24.1m the following year.

Scottish National Party education spokesman Mike Russell called the move "a step in the right direction".

Parents' responsibility

But he warned: "There is no statute underpinning them, which means it is still easy for local authorities, if they are so minded, to ignore them."

He said an SNP government would give schoolchildren free fruit and berries.

And he questioned the effectiveness of shifting vending rooms out of school dining rooms, yet not removing them from the premises altogether.

Last year the executive voted against a Nationalist motion to provide free fruit to every primary pupil in Scotland.

The Scottish Tories said ensuring a proper diet for children should be the responsibility of parents.

Spokesman Brian Monteith said: "A good nutritious diet for a child begins in the home.

"Despite what the government would have us believe, there is no such thing as a free meal - 63.5m is a huge amount of money that could be better spent in education or health.

Scottish Socialist Party MSP Tommy Sheridan, who last year mounted an unsuccessful attempt to legislate for free meals for all children at state schools, dismissed the executive move as too little, too late.



Schools ration junk food
16 Feb 03 |  Scotland
Free school meals move fails
20 Jun 02 |  Scotland
Sheridan anger at 'meal deal'
14 Jun 02 |  Scotland
Fresh push for school dinners
19 Nov 01 |  Scotland
New appetite for school dinners
29 Oct 01 |  Scotland

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