School meals 'leave kids hungry' in Wales obesity fight

BBC Wales has found a number of councils now leave the decision on extra servings to schools or caterers

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Many schools in Wales have clamped down on lunch second helpings for pupils in the fight against child obesity.

A BBC Wales survey has found a number of councils now leave the decision on extra servings to schools or caterers.

Powys bans pudding as seconds, Cardiff schools are urged to offer only extra bread, and Ceredigion extras are small, bringing complaints from hungry pupils.

But the Welsh government says it would never want children left hungry, and it will issue new guidance next year.

SCHOOL FOOD SURVEY

School meal policy varies in many areas of Wales, and here are some examples. For more detail, see the table at the foot of this article.

  • Anglesey: Surplus school food is used as a "taster" to encourage pupils with packed lunches to try school meals
  • Cardiff: Managers are advised to offer extra bread to any request for seconds. But in practice seconds are given in some schools, with kitchens told to interpret legislation.
  • Ceredigion: offers only small second portions
  • Conwy: prepares only enough food for the children present on the day, but will use seconds an an incentive to encourage children to eat.
  • Denbighshire: children are not encouraged to ask for more, as it aims to help child obesity, encourage healthy eating and reduce waste
  • Several areas, such as Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham have no set policy on seconds,, and leave the decision up to schools
  • Flintshire: No ban on seconds, but as costs are strictly controlled, it cooks only what is needed
  • Most counties say all primary pupils get the same size portions, but some, Anglesey, Denbighshire and Ceredigion vary servings.
  • But Powys says primary pupils all pay the same and cooks cannot give "significantly bigger portions" to older ones. But they do get slightly more potatoes and vegetables.
  • SOURCE: BBC Wales survey

BBC Wales asked education authorities about school meals, and 18 of the 22 responded. But while all said children are still allowed to ask for seconds, they may get a different response depending on where they live.

Powys Council says its cooks must use their "discretion" when offering extra food, and while its schools are allowed to serve any leftover vegetables and bread, puddings as seconds are off the menu. Powys also says catering managers advise cooks and rely on their "discretion and understanding".

But some pupils and parents have complained about these restrictions, which follow the adoption of the Welsh government's Appetite for Life programme, which aims to raise nutritional standards and help tackle childhood obesity.

There have also been complaints about the size of portions for primary school pupils. They have protested that 10-11-year-olds will need more food than a four-year-old.

Figures from earlier this year show more than 28% of five-year-olds in Wales are overweight, with 12.5% of children classed as obese. Wales has a bigger problem than either England or Scotland.

The standards have been in force in primary schools since September 2012, and were introduced across secondary schools at the start of this term.

One Welsh assembly member from Powys is so concerned he carried out his own survey of the county's primary schools. Russell George says only one school which responded to his letter said it was satisfied with the current meals policy.

Start Quote

We would never want to see children having school meals going hungry”

End Quote Welsh government

Mr George says most schools also have concerns about portion size, "with many older children complaining that they remained hungry following their school meal".

The Montgomeryshire Conservative AM says one school did its own survey of parents: 67% said portions were too small, almost all - 93% - wanted their children to have seconds, and 10% stopped using school meals because of portion sizes.

Mr George is urging a "common sense" approach to meals in primary schools.

APPETITE FOR LIFE

  • When the Appetite for Life plan was launched in 2008 then Education Minister Jane Hutt said a balanced diet was essential for the young to become healthy adults.
  • It stipulates, for instance, that at least two portions of fruit and vegetables must be available each day, and that chips cannot be served more than twice a week.
  • Oily fish must be served at least twice a month, but food cooked in fat or oil cannot be given to pupils more than twice a week.
  • Schools are told that bread should be on offer, but best eaten without spread, salt must not be available, and any sauces like tomato ketchup, salad cream and mayonnaise must only be in 10ml portions.
  • Cakes and biscuits can only be served as part of lunch, and cannot be served at other times in the school day.
  • Any meals made from mechanically recovered meat cannot be served and fresh drinking water should be freely available.
  • Primary pupils should receive 530 calories per two-course meal, while children in secondary schools get 646 calories.

Education Minister Huw Lewis has echoed those words and wants "a large dose of common sense" to be used in interpreting the guidelines.

He told AMs last month the guidelines are flexible and "offer a proper nutritional balance for our young people, and that is something that we have been working towards for a long time, and now we have it. So, the guidelines matter but so does common sense".

In response to BBC Wales' findings, a Welsh government spokesperson said: "We would never want to see children having school meals going hungry.

"We have provided schools with suggested portion sizes which cater for changing nutritional requirements as children get older. So, for example, a child in year 6 would have a larger portion than a child in reception."

"Local authorities and many schools have worked hard over the years to improve the quality of food and drink provided in schools, in line with the Appetite for Life recommended standards.

"However, in the absence of legislation, there has been a variable rollout across schools. As a consequence, not all schools were achieving the recommended standards. The Healthy Eating in Schools Regulations now require compliance by schools; giving children and young people a healthy balance of food and drink throughout the entire school day.

"Statutory guidance on the Healthy Eating in Schools Regulations is currently being prepared and will be issued in the new year."

SCHOOL MEALS: BBC WALES SURVEY

Area Second helpings policy Primary school portion size Extra comments

Blaenau Gwent

No policy, but seconds served in primary schools if there's spare food

All receive same size

A few complaints from cooks on waste in portion sizes for 4-5-year-olds

Bridgend

Food produced in case of spillages is offered as seconds to children who ask; seconds policy decided at each school

All receive same size

No complaints on portion sizes

Caerphilly

Second served if any food is left

All receive same size as all pay same price

Caerphilly was first Welsh council to achieve full catering compliance with Appetite for Life at both secondary and primary levels

Cardiff

Primary kitchen managers advised to offer extra bread rather than seconds. But some schools do serve seconds if managers agree

No distinction between servings for 4-7-year-olds and 7-11-year-olds. In practice, kitchens give "appropriately sized" portions

Policies meet the legislation. Where interpretation is allowed, managers make their own decisions daily

Carmarthenshire

Encourage children to try everything, but if this upsets them they won't be forced to eat it. This can mean leftover food, which is then offered as seconds

They pay the same and are entitled to the same

Seconds policy is left to the discretion of schools

Ceredigion

Seconds offered on rota basis if food is left over. As seconds are popular, it is cut into small portions

Smaller portions given to 4-5-year-olds as a large plate can be overwhelming. But full portions are available if pupils want a bigger plate or seconds

Seconds policy is not set by the council or schools - instead it depends on any food remaining after all pupils have been served

Conwy

No official policy - enough food is planned and prepared for the number of children at lunch every day

Same size planned for all - in reality children will make individual demands. Aim is to equip children to choose correct amount and variety for healthy lifestyle

Aim is to get children to choose healthy balanced diet. Seconds are one of incentives to encourage children to eat, eg by providing small taster portion, and then hoping they ask for more

Denbighshire

Pupils can ask for seconds but it is not encouraged

They receive different portion sizes

Do not encourage seconds as we try to help in cutting child obesity, encourage healthier eating and reduce food waste

Flintshire

No policy on banning seconds but only cook what is needed

All receive the same

We strictly control food costs and only prepare and cook what is needed

Gwynedd

Any leftovers are offered after all pupils served

All allocated same, but some children will ask for smaller portions

No seconds policy is set by council, and schools may decide to give spare food to pupils rather than throwing it in the bin

Monmouthshire

The amount of food cooked and served is in accordance with meal numbers and guidelines - therefore surplus food is not normally available

Previously portion sizes differed in accordance with age. But Appetite for Life guidelines recommend same size portions

Neath Port Talbot

Seconds are allowed

All are offered the same

Pembrokeshire

If surplus food is available, pupils can ask

Same size for all

The county recognises that nutrition standards apply to an average lunch over five days, rather than individual consumption. Also some pupils need to eat more than others, which is why seconds are offered

Powys

Vegetables and bread can be offered as seconds but cooks must use discretion to avoid over-eating. No pudding seconds are available

All pay the same and significantly bigger portion cannot be given to older pupils. But older children do get slightly more potatoes and vegetables

Catering support team ensure value for money, comply with menus and and analyse all ingredients. Also work with schools to encourage health eating activities in class

Torfaen

Seconds are available

Infants get less because they often require less, for which we charge less

We have no problem with a child having seconds if there has been over-production

Wrexham

No formal policy

Same sizes

We were a pilot authority for Appetite for Life and follow the recommendations

Vale of Glamorgan

No set policy: 5% extra meals always produced and any food left over is offered as seconds as long as head teacher is happy

All receive same size - 530 calories per two-course meal

All primary schools meet Appetite for Life nutrition and food standards. All secondaries managed by council caterer follow food standards and are working toward nutritional standards

Ynys Mon

Any surplus food is of a minimum amount. It's good practice to use any surplus as a taster for pupils with packed lunches to encourage them to try school meals

Caterers are told portion sizes should be dependant on the age of the pupil

In consultation during recent re-tendering for school meal provider, portion sizes were highlighted. Council tells meal provider that consideration should be given to portion sizes, depending on pupil age

Eighteen of 22 Welsh councils responded to the BBC Wales survey

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