The proof is in the pudding

CateringWhen embarking on any job, having the right tools makes all the difference. That’s why, as part of our support to schools on meeting the national school food standards, the School Food Trust has developed a comprehensive Audit and Inspections toolkit. The toolkit guides you through the task of gathering the correct evidence to demonstrate that your school menus meet the national standards, and includes a checklist so you can make sure you have all of the recommended information and evidence available.

The evidence is much more than a legal requirement; it’s also a great way to promote your school meals to parents, with the reassurance that your pupils are being offered a well-balanced menu that will set them up to learn.

Setting the table
All maintained schools must be able to demonstrate that they meet the food-based standards, that is the requirements outlining which foods and drinks can be provided both at lunchtime and right across the school day. What’s more, they need to ensure that an average school lunch meets the nutrient-based standards. These standards relate to the amount of energy and 13 nutrients such as iron and zinc which should be in an average school lunch. Understanding if these standards have been met involves menu planning and nutrient analysis.

The impact of the standards is already being seen. Research in primary schools in 2009 showed that 74 per cent of pupils eating school meals are now taking servings of vegetables and salad with their lunch, compared with 59 per cent in 2005. On average, children in 2009 took more than two of their ‘five-a-day’ as part of their school lunch, eating an average of 1.6 portions of fruit and vegetables. More children were drinking water with their meal, and the average lunch was lower in fat, sugar and salt.

There are numerous long-term benefits too. We know that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults and school food can help shape the eating habits that lead to a healthy weight. In the long term, a school that takes an active interest in healthy eating can play a part in educating children to make good food choices and grow up to be healthier adults who don’t need to rely on health services.

Using the evidence
Evidence on how you comply with the standards for school food is information that lots of people in the school community may want to see.

When catering budgets have been delegated (as is the case for most schools in England), school governors are responsible for ensuring the standards are met, even when the school receives catering services from a local authority provider or private caterer. Being able to provide your governors with evidence that your food meets the national standards means they can fulfil their legal responsibility and are fully informed. The toolkit can also be used to evaluate the food provided right across the day, showing how food served in breakfast clubs and tuck shops – which governors must also oversee - is also in line with the national requirements.

A nutritious lunch in a decent dining room environment means better behaviour in the classroom in the afternoon, which is of great benefit to teachers. Our research shows that where improvements were made to both the menu and the dining room, primary school pupils were three times more likely to be ‘on-task’ with their teachers in the lessons after lunch. In secondary schools, the increase in ‘on-task’ behaviour after a healthy lunch was 18 per cent.

Being able to show that your school is compliant with the national standards is a useful marketing tool when you’re communicating with parents of both present and future pupils, who may be undecided about whether to opt for school meals for their children.

Thanks to the national standards, research proves that school meals are typically the healthier option. Our studies in a nationally representative sample of primary schools in England found that food chosen and eaten by children taking school lunches was healthier than that eaten by children with packed lunches – containing less sugar, fat and salt. We’ve also looked into the time and effort it takes to make a packed lunch which meets the same tough nutritional standards as a school lunch – and found that parents could need to spend up to eight whole days in the kitchen every year to do the job. 

How was the toolkit developed?

Helping schools and their caterers to check that they are meeting the national school food standards is a crucial part of our work. We developed the audits and inspections toolkit to help you collect the required information and make the process as quick and as easy as possible. In order to ensure that the kit really worked for those who need to use it, we tested it in primary, secondary and special schools.

Firstly, following preliminary research into the evidence produced by primary schools and their catering providers, a draft toolkit was developed.

Then in 2009 the toolkit was piloted in 28 primary schools in the West Midlands region, in partnership with the Department of Health and Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CEnTSA).

During autumn term 2010, a further set of pilots was carried out in ten secondary schools and four special schools in the West Midlands region in partnership with CEnTSA.

The evidence that schools and their caterers need to produce to show they have met the standards is the same in all types of schools. The toolkit contains some example menus so there are now two versions available: a toolkit for primary and special schools and their caterers; and a toolkit for secondary schools and their caterers.

Schools who took part in the autumn term 2010 pilot told us that they would find the completed toolkit useful for updating school governors about the food provided, marketing with parents, and also to use during general discussions between the school and kitchen.

If you’re interested in reading about the pilots in more depth, there are two reports available on the School Food Trust website, detailing the development and piloting of the Audits and Inspections toolkit.

What is included in the toolkit?

The toolkit has three parts. Part one of the toolkit is a one page checklist. You can complete this in partnership with your caterers, to indicate the evidence available to demonstrate compliance with the standards that apply to school lunches, and to food other than lunches. This will indicate if recommended minimum evidence is currently available.

In parts two and three of the toolkit, you will find further information, including details of recommended minimum evidence of compliance and paper checklists which can be used to check food provision against the food-based standards for lunches and other food provided. It also gives the next steps to take if recommended minimum evidence is not yet available.

We recommend that all schools work alongside their caterers to make sure they have the recommended minimum evidence available. The toolkit provides an easy way to gather, understand and share the information with the wider school community

To download the toolkit visit the School Food Trust website:

Check list example
The toolkit includes checklists that can be used by schools and catering providers to check that the food provided at lunchtime and in other outlets operating across the school day is compliant with the food-based standards.

Examples from the final food-based standards for school lunches checklist:

Are there at least two portions of fruit and vegetables/salad being provided per day per pupil? At one least one should be vegetables/salad and at least one should be fruit

Is any confectionary being provided? This should not be provided at any time of the school day. Confectionery includes chocolate, chocolate biscuits and sweets.

Is oily fish being provided at least once every three weeks? Oily fish includes fresh, canned or frozen salmon, sardines, pilchards, mackerel, herring and fresh or frozen tuna. Tinned tuna, white fish or white fish fortified with omega-3 fatty acids don’t meet the requirement.