A greater proportion of organic and fresh locally grown food should be served in Scottish schools, hospitals and care homes, according to campaigners.
Raising the quality of meals would improve health, boost local economies and benefit the environment, they say.
The calls came as it emerged that plans for a new Good Food Nation bill had been dropped from the SNP’s latest Programme for Government.
The bill would have been aimed at tackling child poverty, obesity and the environmental impact of food production and waste.
Now Soil Association Scotland (SAS), a charity dedicated to developing a sustainable farming and food system, is calling for a shake-up in what is dished up to some of the country’s most vulnerable people.
It believes the public sector is “uniquely positioned” to tackle health inequalities by normalising good food and creating environments where it is easy and enjoyable for everyone to eat well, while driving transformation in food production and supply.
“Scotland’s natural food larder is outstanding and its food and drink is world-renowned,” said Aoife Behan (pictured), director of food and policy at SAS.
“Our fantastic natural produce should not be the preserve of the overseas consumer or the monied middle-class foodie. It should be on plates in schools, hospitals and care homes across the country.”
SAS has created the Food For Life awards that grade local authorities on the food they serve.
Targets include lots of fruit and vegetables, fish and wholegrains, less but better quality meat and minimal processed food; ingredients should be seasonal, locally grown and sustainably produced with low climate impact and high welfare standards.
Research into the programme has shown that every £1 spent by a local authority on a Food For Life certified school meal brings a social return on investment of £4.41, in the form of jobs, skills and improved health.
To date two of Scotland’s 32 councils have qualified for the highest award – East Ayrshire, which has held gold for the past decade, and North Ayrshire, which achieved the accolade five years ago.
Nine hold silver or bronze gradings, while seven are working with SAS towards achieving an award.
The organic market in Scotland is growing, with sales up 19.4 per cent in the last year alone.
SAS figures show that in 2016-17, local authorities with silver and gold Food For Life awards spent more than £590,000 on organic ingredients for school meals.
Mark Hunter, service manager for food and catering at East Ayrshire Council, said: “It’s not about making food cheap. It’s about the value of the food on the plate and the connections made between food education, the curriculum and engaging with our community.
“When ingredients are locally produced you can control what you’re cooking a lot better.
“You know the quality is there so if you manage it correctly you can create a menu within the restrictions of your budget and all the other constraints, and do it well.”