Ministers need to take a “bolder approach” to persuade pupils to eat more healthily, the faculty of dental surgery of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow said.
The group, which represents more than 1,000 Scottish dentists and trainees, said lunch menus at schools were often structured to allow children to choose unhealthy options.
In a submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on new school meal guidelines, the faculty said it was “common” for pupils to be offered a choice between “soup or pudding”.
“Freshly made, locally sourced ingredients for soup can provide portions of vegetables, while puddings only provide excess free sugar, salt and fat,” it said.
“This menu choice should be stopped along with any other practices that undermine the healthier choice. An alternative might be ‘soup or fresh fruit’, as both/either will provide at least one additional portion of fruit or vegetables.”
The faculty said that a “long- term shift in food culture” in schools could only be achieved if other changes were made, such as allowing children to brush their teeth after meals.
Under plans being considered by ministers, fruit juices and smoothies are set to be banned from school canteens, with strict weekly portion limits also placed on unhealthy foods.
School lunches will have to include at least two portions of vegetables and one portion of fruit – and the use of salt shakers will be banned.
For the first time, controls will also be placed on the amount of red processed meat such as bacon and sausages, with each secondary school pupil only allowed a maximum of 130g per week.
The faculty welcomed the plans to cut the sugar content of school meals, but said it was “totally opposed” to allowing sugar free drinks to be served to secondary pupils.
It argued that sugar-free or diet drinks could still cause dental erosion and “normalise” sweet tastes for children. The policy could also be seen as a general endorsement of fizzy drinks, it added.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome the faculty’s comments to our consultation, which we will carefully consider along with the many other responses we received to make school food and drink healthier using the latest scientific and expert advice.
“We want to make sure every pupil is equipped with the skills, knowledge and experience they need to make better health choices and live longer, healthier lives.”