Schools given extra £240m for healthy lunches

Schools will get an additional £240 million to help them cook with healthy ingredients as part of a drive to cut childhood obesity, the education secretary has announced.

Alan Johnson said the money would add to the £220 million already pledged to schools and councils to support new food guidelines, which come into effect this week.

From now on, low-quality meat, fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate will be banned from school lunches. Pupils will get at least two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal, and deep-fried food such as chips can be served a maximum of twice a week.

Today’s extra money will go towards subsidising healthy ingredients in schools, while an additional £2 million will set up training centres across the country, where school cooks can be trained in how to make more nutritious food.

“We’re taking another big step to ensure parents know pupils will get the nutrients they need during the school day and that school cooks get the kitchens and training they need to deliver healthier food,” Mr Johnson said.

He also announced that from 2008, secondary schools will have to offer cooking courses for pupils, teaching them about diet and nutrition, food preparation and hygiene.

The extra money comes in the wake of a government report predicting alarming rises in obesity among young people over the coming years.

It suggests the percentage of obese girls aged two to 15 will increase from 16 per cent in 2003 to 22 per cent by the end of the decade. Among boys, the figure will increase from 17 per cent to 19 per cent.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union Nasuwt, welcomed the new funding, and also described ministers’ attempts to promote the use of locally produced food in schools as “a creative and mutually beneficial strategy”.

Defra intends to help small producers to bid for school food contracts, for example by helping them collaborate with other businesses to offer a full range of fresh fruit, vegetable, dairy and meat for school meals.

“The link between diet and pupils’ behaviour and educational progress is undeniable. Schools will, therefore, welcome the extension of the transitional funding to improve the ingredients of school meals,” Mr Keates said.

However, he warned that plans to give all pupils the option of cookery lessons was “fine in principle”, but must not result in teachers taking on extra work out of school hours.