Fruit juice and ham off menu in school meal overhaul in Scotland

Fruit juice and smoothies are to be banned to cut children’s sugar intake and processed meat restricted to 100g a day under sweeping plans to transform Scotland’s school meal provision.

Pupils in a school cafeteria being served lunch
Pupils in a school cafeteria being served lunch

More vegetables and fruit will be on offer whenever food is served in schools – including tuck shops – while red meat will also be restricted on school menus.

The previous guidelines which restrict how much salt, sugar and fat should be served in school meals have been in place since 2007.

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The new measures, which will be mandatory for all Scottish primary and secondary schools by August next year, were announced by deputy first minister John Swinney at St Johns RC Primary School in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Government said the change strengthens efforts to improve diet, halve childhood obesity by 2030 and strengthen children and young people’s healthy eating habits. More than 360,000 meals are served in Scotland’s schools every day.

Mr Swinney said: “We’ve always had really strong standards within Scottish education and school meals regulations. But advice changes from year to year and we enlisted the help of an expert panel to look at all the issues that we need to update the regulations around.”

“Obviously it will be up to local authorities around the country and individual schools to make sure that menus are constructed to reflect those changes in the regulations and we look forward to seeing the fruits of that within these schools.”

He pointed out that one small carton of fruit juice or smoothie contains more than the entire recommended sugar intake for a primary pupil’s lunch.

He said: “These changes will improve our school food, help tackle childhood obesity and give our children the best start in life.”

A public consultation on school food regulations took place in 2018. 1,359 responses were received, 1,280 from individuals and 79 from organisations.

Mr Swinney added: “The meals have got to provide a nutritious experience for all pupils. I’m increasingly struck by my wider work in education that young people need good nutrition to learn. Schools have got to work on the creation of balanced menus that give young people the nutrition they require. The regulations as a whole convey what our expectations are relating to the content of school meals.”

Chris Ross, head of catering at Edinburgh Council, said that schools in the capital had already started moving towards the new guidelines a year ago.

He said: “It’s getting away from the idea that school meals are all about turkey twizzlers.”

Claire Hislop, organisational lead for diet and healthy weight at NHS Health Scotland and a member of the technical working group which reviewed the current regulations, said: “We know that health in Scotland is 
improving, but not for everyone.

“Supporting children and young people at school is an important way of addressing these inequalities.”

A Scotland on Sunday investigation five years ago found that while schools mainly adhered to government guidelines on salt, fat and sugar, meals were generally lacking in good protein and fresh fruit and vegetables.