LONDON: The government plans to snatch junk food, chocolates and crisps from 8 million school children. According to an announcement yesterday, the School Meals Advisory Panel is going to revise national school curriculum with the inclusion of cookery classes for boys and girls between 11 and 14. It will also ban junk food and sugary fizzy pop type drinks from school and canteen vending machines.
Under the enforced “healthy eating” plan, reconstituted meats will be replaced with at least two portions of fresh fruit and vegetables daily; oily fish will also become a regular 3-weekly feature; fried food will be limited to two dishes a week. And pupils will be barred from leaving the school gate; which means pupils have no choice but to eat what the school canteen provides.
The panel said it aimed to instill the concept of ‘healthy eating’ among pupils by phasing out all old unhealthy meal menus and eating habits. This may prove more difficult than is imagined. A separate study by the Foods Standards Agency showed that half of all students chose burgers and chips whereas barely 2 percent chose fruits.
Knowing that children are not going to welcome the food changes, the panel plans to implement the changes gradually – over the next two years for primary schools and until 2009 for secondary schools. By that time stringent nutrient-based standards will be in place at all schools across the UK. These will feature a total of 23 standards of which 14 will regulate the proportion of nutrients that children must get and the remaining nine will require children to get at least one portion of fruit and one of vegetables or salad every day. Pupils will have access to “unrestricted” quantities of bread and free, fresh, chilled drinking water.
Pupils would be made to understand what kind of food is good for them; they will also be taught practical cooking skills, especially how to prepare vegetables and other healthful dishes.
Education secretary Ruth Kelly supported the panel’s recommendations and said that even parents needed to be told what food is permitted in packed lunches. She also welcomed the suggestion that pupils be barred from leaving school grounds to buy fast food products.
The panel comprises teachers, public health organisations, caterers, unions, consumer groups and local authority representatives.
Until now pupils were required only to study food technology in design and technology classes. With the panel’s efforts a course in cooking is set to become a requisite of the new curriculum.
The panel pointed out that the government was expected to provide an additional Ł266 million to fund the programme for improving school meals. Ms Kelly had earlier allowed Ł220 million which would not be enough for the three year transition period to the new ‘healthy eating’ standards, the panel said.