Calls are being made this week for a loophole that allows many academy schools to ignore the new School Food Standards to be closed.
The new School Food Standards in England came into force this month, and include regulations on how much and what types of food canteens should be providing.
For example, children must be offered one or more portions of salad or vegetables every day, and fried or pastry-based food should be limited to two portions a week.
The new regulations, which replace ones put in place after the campaign led by celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver several years ago, are mandatory for maintained local authority schools, new free schools and some academies.
However, academies created between 2010 and 2014 remain exempt from the changes, sparking calls from local government for action to close this “loophole”.
Exempt academies are being encouraged to sign up to the new standards voluntarily, but there are no plans as yet to make this compulsory.
David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People’s Board, said: “School autonomy is supposed to drive up standards but in the case of school meals we now have a two-tier system where one type of school can effectively exempt pupils from healthy choices and instead chose to sell fatty and sugary foods. All schools should meet the same high standards.
“No school should be exempt from these important standards and we urge the government to make regulations on school food mandatory to ensure every child receives healthy and nutritious food at school.”
The LGA’s call has been backed by the National Union of Teachers.
Meanwhile, the new regulations are accompanied by a number of resources for schools, including checklists, posters and charts detailing portion sizes and food groups that can be used for easy reference in kitchens and food preparation areas.
The new standards have been welcomed by experts in the industry. Dr Patricia Mucavele, head of nutrition at the Children’s Food Trust, said: “We tested the new standards with the people who would be using them – school caterers and cooks.
“They told us the new standards were easier and more intuitive to use to plan interesting and creative menus, which has got to be great news for children and school food.”
The Department for Education said Mr Oliver’s school meals regulations had done “much to improve school food”, but claimed that they had proved expensive and complicated to enforce. The new rules are intended to give school cooks more “flexibility”, ministers say.
Under the rules schools should provide three different fruits and the same variety of vegetables each week, with wholegrain foods taking the place of refined carbohydrates.
Children are to be offered water in preference to fruit juice, which will be limited to single servings of 150 millilitres. Lower fat or lactose-reduced milk should be available every day.
Foods that are bread-crumbed, battered or deep-fried should only be available twice a week as should foods that include pastry.
Details of the school meal reforms were originally unveiled by ministers in June last year, and followed a review by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, founders of the Leon food chain. The pair had been asked by Michael Gove, the then education secretary, in 2012, to look into nutrition in England’s schools and whether it could be improved.
For further information and to access the new School Food Standards and related resources, visit www.schoolfoodplan.com/standards CAPTION: Resources: One of the posters available to help with the new School Food Standards