Going the extra mile in school food standards

Most schools have had a legal responsibility to meet the new school food standards since they came into force at the start of this year. They’re designed to be simpler to understand and easier to apply than the previous standards, focusing on food groups to help kitchens build interesting, creative and nutritionally balanced menus.
The underlying principle is the importance of a wide range of foods across the week. Variety is key to a healthy diet, whatever your age – whether it’s different fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses or types of meat and fish. Offering lots of different foods provides a better balance of nutrients.
There’s been a warm welcome for the new standards. But there’s still lots of help available if your team needs it – on the Children’s Food Trust’s website, you’ll find checklists, information on food customs, a chart of British seasonal food, a drinks table summarising the types of drinks your school can serve, and examples of compliant menus to help you plan menus with confidence.
We also offer a menu checking service, offering reassurance that your menus are doing the job for your pupils, aligned to national best practice on healthier procurement, cooking practices, and portion sizes. Book in with our nutritionists and they’ll go over your menu for you, using their years of experience of designing menus with schools and nurseries to highlight any issues and make to be sure your menu hits the mark.
Thanks to the service, thousands of school pupils are now enjoying meals from menus guaranteed to comply with the revised school food standards.

Council case studies
From the New Year, the menu used in Sefton Council’s 76 primary schools has displayed the logo to show parents, pupils and staff that they comply with the new standards. Around 11,000 meals a day are served to infant and junior children across the authority.
Colin Upton, school meals and catering services manager, says: “With the introduction of the new legal requirements, we want to ensure that our menus meet the new standards. We previously analysed our menus internally but thought it important to give schools and parents the reassurance that the food we provide is accredited by an outside body.”
West Sussex County Council used the service to approve menus produced for 11 special schools in the authority. John Figgins, Catering Services Manager, said: “We wanted our menus to be accredited by a professional, well regarded organisation that was also involved in devising the new standards.

“Our schools have a high number of vulnerable pupils with complex dietary issues. A big focus for the schools is that all meals should be of high quality and cater for a wide range of dietary requirements, while at the same time meeting all the new food-based standards. The accreditation process gives us that peace of mind.”

Nursery catering
The service is also available to nursery caterers so that they can meet voluntary food and drink guidelines for early years settings published in 2012. Nursery catering service Healthy Roots, which serves 600 meals a day to 22 nurseries in Kent, Sussex and south London, was the first early years catering service to have its menus checked.
Managing director Dawn Phelps says: “I’m committed to serving natural, nutritious food and I wanted to work with a body of people who shared that commitment.
“Nursery owners want to give their parents the reassurance that they are doing the best for the children in their care, and that includes feeding them good quality, nutritious meals. Before signing up to the Trust’s menu checking service I used a software package to analyse the nutritional make up of our menus but this was open to personal interpretation. For me it’s important to know that what I am doing is absolutely right, and this service provides that guarantee.”

Voluntary guidelines
So, whether you’re developing one or multiple menus, this service is about feeling confident that your menus are the best they can be. Better still, you’ll be able to use our special ‘Menu Checked’ logo on your menu for the next year, to demonstrate your school’s commitment to the health and wellbeing of your pupils.
And if your school wants to cut the amount of salt, fat, saturated fat and sugar in your menu even further, you can opt to use the government’s standards for buying food and ingredients as well.
The Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services Mandatory Nutrition Criteria (GBSF) are voluntary guidelines for buying healthier food and ingredients. To meet the school food standards, your school will already be following many of these GBSF requirements – like not making salt available on dining tables. Other criteria are more involved, and you’ll need to check product information to see if you meet them.
You’ll find some great tools on our website to make it easier to use the GBSF in your school. There’s guidance on how to get started, along with a checklist tool which will automatically calculate and display whether your products meet the GBSF criteria.
Sue Fletcher-White, food education manager at Colham Manor Primary School in Uxbridge, works with her school’s food supplier to meet the GBSF in her menus and helped us test our new guidance and checklist.
She said: “The checklist tool made it simple and quick to check which of the GBSF criteria we were already meeting and which we still need to work on. The calculating tool is great, working all the percentages out for you and providing instant feedback.”
All of these measures support the School Food Plan’s national drive to improve the quality of the school meal experience for children – because by making the experience the best it can be, we’ll encourage many more families to choose school meals. With Ofsted planning a much greater focus on food in the new Common Inspection Framework from September, now is the time to make sure your school can show how it supports healthy eating in every aspect of school life.
If your school’s struggling to get more pupils to opt for the canteen at the moment, there’s lots of help available. Right now, a new national scheme has been specially designed to help junior and secondary schools get more children choosing school meals. Commissioned by the Department for Education, the scheme brings together the Children’s Food Trust, Food for Life Partnership and The Design and Technology Association to offer more than one million pounds worth of training, support and materials to help schools increase the number of pupils opting to eat school meals.

Next steps    
The next steps a school has to take is to get help with using the new school food standards, which can be found on the Childrens Food Trust website, as seen below.

Schools should see whether its school food ingredients and products meet the voluntary GBSF criteria, and get schools menus checked.
Grab your place on the national scheme to get more children choosing school meals at www.schoolfoodplan.com/takeup.

Further information