Secondary school pupils 'not eating enough'

School dinners Secondary pupils tend to have more choice at school canteens

Secondary school pupils are not eating enough at lunchtime according to a study by the body overseeing school food.

School Food Trust research suggests pupils get a quarter of the recommended daily intake from lunch, rather than the third that is advised.

A trust spokeswoman said it could be because pupils just chose a salad or a dessert rather than a full meal.

But there is evidence of significant improvements in school nutrition.

'Fuel up'

The School Food Trust report said: "The secondary school environment is more complex than primary, and the style of food service makes it more challenging to ensure that pupils are making healthy choices whilst catering for their needs at lunchtime."

The trust added in a statement: "The research shows that schools still need to do even more to encourage teenagers to fuel up well for their afternoon lessons.

"Despite huge improvements to what's on the menu, teenagers are still not choosing food combinations that will give them enough energy and nutrients to stay alert all afternoon."

It added that while the number of pupils eating fruit and vegetables every day had doubled since guidelines came into force, it still needed to go much further.

The report compared the eating habits of almost 12,000 pupils in 80 schools in England in 2011 with a smaller group of about 6,000 pupils in 2004.

'Sweets and crisps'

It found significant improvements in the nutritional value of meals offered by secondary schools and healthier choices made by pupils.

For example, in 2004 43% of pupils had chips with their lunch compared to just 7% in 2011.

And almost all schools have ditched the sale of chocolate, sweets and crisps.

Nutritional guidelines for school food were introduced in 2005 after a campaign by the TV chef Jamie Oliver exposed how unhealthy food was in some places. These were then strengthened and full guidelines came into force in 2009.

Senior nutritionist, Jo Nicholas, who led the research for the trust said: "These findings show that even just 12 to 18 months after the final standards came into effect, as many secondary schools were getting to grips with the changes, the legislation was already making a significant impact - not just for what was on the menu but also for what teenagers were actually eating.

"Instead of 'chips with everything' we're starting to see signs of 'chips now and again'," she added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    227. emily radetsk: Undermined by Globo-Food advertising? Definitely. The 'research' we read above looks like a perversion of something the ATL had pointed out, that portions of free school meals had become smaller as caterers tried to preserve profit margins in face of increasing food costs. May seem unrelated, but maybe we need to get spiv speculators OUT of commodities like food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    I agree with many parents here on HYS our 7 year old has recently told us that if his class is late being released for lunch most of the school meals have already gone and he has to take what is left. His primary school is totally dependant on the school meal provider getting the numbers right but it appears this company is cutting back to save money. I will be asking for an investigation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    good story is so important...........remember thatcher the milk snatcher? also a story that affects us.... unlike rubbish about spains unemployment, and how the q1 economic results in outer mongolia are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    226. TheMardler: You don't have to be old, just come from a less affluent country. There are plenty of places where there are no school meals, no pocket money, and no 'social' provision, yet children end up better educated and more balanced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    I am particularly impressed that Michael Gove seems to think one of the freedoms that Free schools should enjoy is the freedom to fill their canteens full of assorted sugary drinks and chocolate dispensers and the freedom to utterly ignore good nutritional advice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    It seems weird to me that there are more news about catering in school than about education in school.

  • Comment number 227.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    No idea how old No 7 is but there were school meals when I started school in the late 50s and they were adequate enough so that many parents regarded them as their children's main meal of the day.Couldn't do it now because incompetent staff wouldnt do the job properly, but cutting benefits and feeding all kids something nourishing midday might help children of the poor or feckless.

  • Comment number 225.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.


    Why do we need a welfare review. If you want to breed kids pay for them dont expect nanny state to bail you out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    When will Britain get its act together on what portions, what foods to feed potentially malnourished students?
    It seems to me a relatively simple problem for nutritionists, but an extremely complex problem for The Coalition Govt.
    Why can the Netherlands & Finland handle the food problem, but UK cannot?

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    I don't think any of the kids referred to in the comments below are exactly 'starving' are they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    An urgent welfare review is needed, and Ofsted should have been doing this, of how schools have been cutting lunch breaks to the bone.Many pupils don't have adequate time to eat their lunch once queuing is taken into account and many don't have a dedicated clean place to eat their packed lunches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    218. MrsBarnes09: When I was a kid there were no school meals and I had no pocket money, so if I didn't bring a lunch I would get nothing. I made my own sandwiches, indeed me and my brother often cooked the dinner too. But school was a place to learn, not a political playground. I do wish teachers like yourself could get on with the job without having to compensate for parental inadequacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Many children who get free school meals do not get enough allowance to buy a decent lunch. My granddaughters cannot get a sandwich and fruit out of the amount they are allocated, nor a main course with potatoes or rice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    I knew this would be a "lets bash the schools again". As a teacher, experience of a longer lunch break meant pupils lost concentration in pm lessons as it was later. Also there were more fights in the last part of lunch. If you don't like what the school offer/charge, send a packed lunch! Most won't eat it anyway, vast amounts of sandwiches made by Mum get thrown away. Guess that's our fault too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    in the 70s, me and my brother used to walk home for dinner... approx 1 mile from the school...i ve never had school dinners and ive never been over weight

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    What next - comfy cushions for their precious bottoms? When we've solved the debt crisis, global warming, 3rd world poverty and corrupt political systems, then I'll worry about this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    I worked in a secondary school for 12 years, and my daughters attended the same school. They took packed lunches because there were huge queues at the canteen every day, and pupils then had to rush to get to the afternoon session. If they had a school 'club' to get to in lunchtime, they had to grab a bread roll and go. No wonder pupils aren't eating properly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    92.Tsunami of Logic

    "...the very idea of disciplining a child will cause the chattering lefties to hop up & down..."


    I've some sympathy with that, though wouldn't say it's political, but rather more to do with wet lettuce social airs. People seem terrified of being caricatured as "up tight" in any tiny detail at all.


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