Limits to be set for school meal processed meat consumption

Author: Adrian O'Dowd
Limits to be set for school meal processed meat consumption

Maximum limits for how much children can eat red processed meats during a week of school lunches are to be set in Scotland for the first time anywhere in the UK.

The Scottish government and local authorities have announced a joint commitment to provide the healthiest food to children and young people and part of this intention involves a duty to provide school meals that meet strict nutritional requirements, including encouraging the use of fresh, local and sustainable produce.

New regulations that will be mandatory for all primary and secondary schools by the autumn of 2020 – to allow councils time to plan their menus and supply chains – mean existing 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, for example, tuck shops
  • a maximum amount of 175g of red and processed red meat provision -  such as bacon, ham and pepperoni – are allowed per week in school lunches to help reduce exposure to nitrites
  • only breakfast cereals with no more than 15g of total sugar per 100g will be allowed
  • only sweetened yoghurt, fromage frais or other milk based desserts with a maximum portion size of 125g and no more than 10g of total sugar per 100g will be permitted
  • removal of fruit juice and smoothies from primary and secondary schools to help reduce sugar intake.

The measures follow a consultation carried out last year – the Scottish government published a report* today on the responses to that process – as well as advice from a working group comprising health, nutrition and education experts.

The government said the move was part of a new initiative to make school food healthier and it would help towards achieving the nation’s efforts to improve diet, halving childhood obesity by 2030 and strengthening children and young people’s healthy eating habits.

Scotland’s deputy first minister 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.”

Claire Hislop, organisational lead for diet and healthy weight at NHS Health Scotland and a member of the technical working group that 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.”

* Scottish government. Consultation on nutritional requirements for food and drink in schools: report on responses to the consultation (13 June 2019).