School Meals: Processed Food

Department for Education written question – answered on 1st August 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps, if any, they plan to take in response to the study in the journal Nutrients, published on 21 July, which found that ultraprocessed food consisted of 82 per cent of the calories in packed school lunches and 64 per cent in school meals, with calories provided by these foods being 61 per cent of primary pupils' diets and 77 per cent of secondary pupils'.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

A diet high in processed foods is often high in calories, salt, saturated fat and sugar and low in fibre, which is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic diseases. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) is delivering a range of measures to help address the exposure and consumption of food and drink products high in saturated fat, sugar or salt, including restricting the advertising and promotions of these products, and a sugar reduction and wider reformulation programme.

Further to the work being done by OHID, the department encourages all schools to have a whole school approach to healthy eating, promoting healthy eating and providing healthy, tasty and nutritious food and drink. Compliance with the school food standards is mandatory for all maintained schools, including academies and free schools. The Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014 is available here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/1603/contents/made.

Schools may use the school food standards as a guide when writing their packed lunch policies. For example, confectionery is banned throughout the school day and foods high in salt, sugar and fat are restricted. Schools can also confiscate items that are banned by the school rules. More information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/searching-screening-and-confiscation.

The department also wants to make it easier for parents to feel confident that they are preparing healthy, balanced lunches for their children. Further information such as recipes, tips and swap suggestions for parents are available on the Change4Life website, which is available here: https://www.nhs.uk/change4life-beta/healthier-lunchboxes.

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