BETTER training for canteen staff and more involvement from pupils in choosing menus are among the recommendations of new guidance on school meals.
Produced by a working group established by the Scottish Government, the report Better Eating, Better Learning, calls for healthy food to be put at the centre of the curriculum to improve the health of Scotland’s children.
The guidance calls for schools to champion fresh, local and seasonal produce, as well as providing “inspiring” menus for young people.
The report says headteachers have a “crucial” role to play in promoting healthy eating, but adds that catering staff should have access to training in food preparation, presentation and hygiene.
Education secretary Mike Russell said the guidance would help improve offerings in Scotland’s school, but critics said the report was nothing more than a “reheat” of existing advice.
Publication of the working group’s guidance comes after the Scottish Government committed to providing free lunches for all P1-3 pupils from next year.
Mr Russell said: “The Scottish Government is committed to providing high-quality school meals and this new guidance sets out how we will go about achieving this.
“There has already been nutritional guidance in place for a number of years, but Better Eating, Better Learning aims to move beyond the simple health benefits, expanding the guidance out to the wider role of food, and particularly school food, in our society.
“The Scottish Government is committed to giving our children the best start in life and how they eat at school forms a crucial part of a child’s development, including how well they learn. [This] guidance strengthens our approach at a national level ahead of every P1-3 pupil being offered a school meal for free every day, which is also aimed at raising attainment.”
The guidance also calls for catering and teaching staff to work together to promote food education. Feedback from children and young people should inform school food and education, it says.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: “Ensuring that all young children, no matter what their family circumstances, can enjoy a healthy and nutritious meal during the school day will bring real and lasting benefits for children’s health and can also aid pupils’ concentration and their ability to learn.”
Jackie Brock, chief executive of the charity Children in Scotland, added: “All of us on the working group agree that school food and food education represent significant opportunities to address some of the health and education challenges facing Scottish children today.
“The Better Eating, Better Learning strategy formally recognises these points from the side of both the pupil and the provider and builds on the success of the Hungry for Success strategy in 2003, whilst updating for today’s educational, health and political contexts.”
But Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who has previously highlighted that many schools do not have space or facilities for fresh food preparation, said: “It’s never been more important to get our children’s nutrition right, but I’m afraid what has been published today is simply a reheat of old advice.
“While it’s sound advice, what we really need is a commitment to improving schools’ access to fresh, local ingredients and a challenging of the unfair buying power of the big four supermarkets.
“We also need to address the serious issue of lack of space in our schools. I fully support the roll out of free lunches to P1, 2 and 3, but we must make it an enjoyable experience, not a cramped feeding frenzy.”