From 1 January 2015 Primary and Secondary Schools operated by the state, as well as new Academies and Free Schools, will be subject to new standards for foods served to pupils following the implementation of The Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014 (the Regulations). Provisions for maintained nursery schools and nursery units within primary schools are also contained within the Regulations.
The Regulations requirements differentiate between meals served at lunchtimes, and other food provided throughout the school day, up until 6pm and cover both food and drink. Similarly, food provided to students on a school trip lasting at least 7 days will also fall under the scope of the regulations.
The standards are intended to help children develop healthy eating habits and ensure that they receive the energy and nutrition they need across the whole school day.
For school lunches pupils must be provided with a set number of portions from 4 key food groups. Meals should include a mixture of portions of:
- unrefined starchy foods
- fresh fruit and vegetables
- meat/fish/eggs/beans or another source of non-dairy protein; and
- milk and dairy
A portion from each food group must be provided as part of a school lunch every day. Schools are also allowed to provide savoury crackers or breadsticks with either fruit and vegetables or mild and dairy products at lunchtimes.
For food provided at other times of day up to 6:00pm schools must provide students with foods from the same 4 key food groups, as well as healthy drinks and a limited number of foods high in fat, salt or sugar.
For full details of the number of portions allowed per week for school lunches and food served at other times of day, please see the relevant schedules attached to the Regulations, which can be found here.
Under the regulations free, fresh drinking water is to be made available to students at all times. The only other drinks which are permitted at lunchtimes and across the school day are:
- Still or carbonated plain water
- Lower fat milk or lactose reduced milk
- Fruit or vegetable juice (maximum portion of 150ml)
- Soya, rice or oat drinks enriched with calcium
- Combinations of fruit or vegetable juice with plain water with no added sugar
- Combinations of fruit juice and lower fat milk or plain yoghurt, soya, rice or oat drinks enriched with calcium. Cocoa and lower fait milk or flavoured lower fat milk. All with less than 5% added sugar or honey.
- Tea, coffee or hot chocolate.
The food standards set out in the Regulations will apply to food served on school premises, and will apply to food served at after school clubs, from vending machines and tuck shops. Schools should ensure that they source compliant foods from suppliers of foods available from vending machines and tuck shops, if such options are provided to students.
The Regulations contain no express provisions setting out any penalties for schools which do not comply with the new food standards. Similarly, there are no enforcement provisions contained in the Regulations. The explanatory note indicates that the government intends to assess how the new standards are being implemented in practice by way of survey, but this will not be before 2016.
The Department for Education's advice to governing bodies published in July 2014 included certain proposed exemptions which would mean the Regulations would not, for example, apply to food provided at fund-raising events, at parties/celebrations to mark religious or cultural occasions or as rewards for achievement, good behaviour or effort. However, no exemptions have been listed in the Regulations which came into force on 1 January 2015, so it remains to be seen if any exemption will apply.
A website containing further guidance on the requirements under the Regulations has been set up to assist schools in complying with the standards, and can be found here. The guidance includes information about controlling portion sizes and serving suggestions, as well as suggested resources for buying healthy ingredients and supplies.