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Less sugar and processed meat on the menu for school dinners

Image credit: F.I.R.S.T Robotics

Less sugar and processed meat on the menu for school dinners

Scottish pupils will eat less processed red meat over the course of the school week as part of a new move to reduce exposure to harmful nitrates.

The move is part of a new initiative to make school food healthier and will also see an increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables served, whilst significantly reducing the amount of sugar available throughout the school day. 

It will make Scotland the first part of the UK to set maximum limits for consumption of red processed meat.

The commitment from the Scottish Government and local authorities is underpinned by a duty to provide school meals that meet strict nutritional requirements, including encouraging the use of fresh, local and sustainable produce.

The change strengthens the Scottish Government and councils’ efforts to improve diet, halve childhood obesity by 2030 and strengthen children and young people’s healthy eating habits.

School food regulations will be amended to ensure a minimum of two full portions of vegetables and a full portion of fruit are offered as part of a school lunch, with full portions of fruit and or vegetables also available in tuck shops.

The new regulations will also ensure a maximum amount of red and processed red meat provision -  such as bacon, ham and pepperoni - in school lunches to help reduce exposure to nitrites and the removal of fruit juice and smoothies from primary and secondary schools to help reduce sugar intake.

The measures follow extensive consultation and advice from a working group comprising health, nutrition and education experts.

The regulations will come into effect by autumn 2020 to allow councils time to plan their menus and supply chains.

Education Secretary John Swinney said: “Our school food and drink regulations are now over a decade old. With more than 360,000 meals served a day, schools must follow the latest scientific and dietary advice and encourage young people to choose healthy habits for life.

“Every school lunch will now contain more fruit and vegetables, and where food is served elsewhere in school full portions of fruit and vegetables must be on offer.

“We have set maximum limits for consumption of red processed meat which is linked to an increased risk of cancer. This will also reduce exposure to harmful nitrites.

“And we know that one small carton of fruit juice or smoothie contains more than the entire recommended sugar intake for a primary pupil’s lunch, so these drinks will no longer be served in schools.

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

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:

“The technical working group put the health and wellbeing of children and young people at the heart of our recommendations, drawing on the latest evidence and knowledge of current school food practices.

“We welcome the changes to the food and drink provided in schools, which will help create an environment in which children can choose a healthy, balanced diet.

"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.

“Together with a range of other actions to help support a healthy diet, this new guidance will contribute to improving health and reducing health inequalities in Scotland.”

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