Serving up Children’s Health is our latest report that looks at school food across a London borough, to better understand what children are actually being served every day.
A total of 60 primary and secondary schools were visited to observe the food on offer, the food consumed, the wider school food environment and catering operations. This on the ground research shows that while some schools and caterers have embraced the mandatory School Food Standards, many have struggled to apply them in practice. In other words, the Standards exist on paper but not on plates.
We make a number of recommendations based on the areas we think need to be prioritised, in order for all children to have access to nutritious school food.
Last year we conducted on-the-ground research to review the school food provision across 60 inner-city schools in a London borough, with specialist food consultancy Cookwise.
The research methodology was designed to examine areas most likely to impact on healthy weight, including:
Where possible, reviewers spoke to the headteacher and/or senior leadership team at each school, as well as their catering staff, who were either employed in-house by the school or by an outsourced catering company.
We co-designed this review process to help us gather accurate insights into how School Food Standards are being implemented in practice. As well as developing our own recommendations for key areas of improvement we are also encouraging decision-makers in the school food system to use this report to facilitate change, both to daily practices in schools and national policy more broadly.
The food children eat at school is as important as their education in giving them a healthy start in life. A nutritious diet plays a key role in children’s health and well-being, but it’s something that young people from families on low incomes find much more difficult to access.
The principle behind the School Food Standards is that every child deserves access to the food they need to be healthy, no matter where they live or what sort of school they go to. Their first paragraph states that the Standards are “intended to help children develop healthy eating habits and ensure that they get the energy and nutrition they need across the whole school day.” Achieving the baseline School Food Standards is therefore a minimum requirement schools and caterers are expected to meet, in order to serve fresh, balanced plates of school food.
It’s time to review the Standards, simplify funding mechanisms and commit to proper monitoring. Access to nutritious food throughout the school day must be the norm for children, and in light of drastic changes to school life in the aftermath of Covid-19, this is the ideal time to redesign the school food system and prioritise children’s health.
Cookwise is a specialist food consultancy, and they led the review with Laura Matthews Nutrition Ltd. Cookwise offer a school food review service by an expert team of reviewers, who have worked for Jamie Oliver Ltd in the past and use their experience of school food, public health campaigns and nutritional management of product development and publications to inform their work.
We recommend the following areas be prioritised:
Procurement and regulation
Department for Education to adapt the school food procurement guidance so that contracts explicitly weight value towards nutritional quality of food as well as cost
New funding mechanisms and eligibility
Monitoring and accountability