Friday, March 27, 2009

British food faddist regulations put hot school meals at risk

The future of school meals is in jeopardy because only half of secondary schools are on course to comply with stringent government standards, catering leaders will say today. This could bring about the demise of hot meals in secondary schools, as caterers struggle to cope with the expensive and time-consuming restrictions. From September they will have to buy costly computer equipment to calculate the nutritional content of every meal. Each dish must meet 14 standards, including calorie content, fat, proteins and vitamins.

Caterers say that the obsession with raising the quality of school food, begun by the TV chef Jamie Oliver, has been taken too far by ministers. At best they will have to restrict choice, by scrapping the cafeteria-style buffet common in most schools in favour of a set two-course menu that places greater emphasis on nutrition than pupils’ tastes.

An example of dish that would meet the nutrition requirements is a chicken and vegetable stir fry with brown rice and green cabbage. A typical portion would contain 411 calories, 6.3g fat and 20.6g protein. Burgers with chips and baked beans will disappear.

Caterers say that teenagers will vote with their feet, choosing to eat elsewhere. They predict that this will lead to redundancies and say that the service will be under threat. The Government has banned schools from selling crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks.

The Local Authority Caterers’ Association, which holds its conference in London today, surveyed its members and found that only half were prepared for the nutrient standards at the start of the next academic year. A sixth will not have any in place. The standards became law in primary schools last year but this was much easier to introduce because a set meal is the norm for younger pupils.

Neil Porter, chairman of Laca, said these were a “step too far”. He said: “We will have to put menus and recipes through a software system which produces a graph to show whether they are compliant. These will be externally monitored and checked. “Secondary schools have an average 30 to 40-minute lunch break, and 1,000 pupils. How can you feed upwards of 1,000 students set meals, with the added complication of kitchen and dining areas not being able to cope with new food preparation and the increased numbers? And let’s not forget the other important point: that teenagers will not choose the new food on offer when, before, they had multiple choice menus. “We have to meet 14 nutrient standards and will have most problems with zinc and iron. Liver and spinach are the best sources but these aren’t the most popular items in school. We would be providing something that they shun, in order to tick a box.”

Mr Porter said that the changes would “inevitably lead to a loss of posts within kitchens and could finally result in the school meals service, as we know it, ceasing in secondary schools.” A statement issued by Laca said: “Together with a number of other leading organisations, academic researchers, dietitians and health experts, we believe that nutrient standards could bring the demise of the secondary school meal service in this country.”

The survey found that almost three quarters of caterers believed that the standards would result in high food costs and an increase in meal prices. Four fifths thought it would cause a decline in the uptake of school lunches.

A spokeswoman for the School Food Trust, which devised the nutrient standards, said: “They are challenging but there is a very valid reason for them. It is important that they are in place to ensure we promote the health, wellbeing and achievements of children. The School Food Trust has worked with caterers from a number of different school settings. All have proved that through hard work and engagement with students they have been able to produce a compliant, appealing, tasty and varied menu.”


Australia: Food freak mayor imposing her views on others

SYDNEY Lord Mayor Clover Moore has banned Tim Tams from council events for fear they're partially produced through cruel child labour on Africa's Ivory Coast. In a move to create "sustainable, healthy and cruelty-free catering" at City of Sydney meetings and events, staff have stopped providing chocolate biscuits along with meals containing eggs, bottled water, fat-rich cakes, dairy deserts and "bad" fish species.

One of the first attempts at the new politically correct meals policy was at the council's Investing in Sydney's Future business forum on February 25. On the menu were vegetables (locally grown), NSW wines (organic) and "a good fish species choice" (blue-eye trevalla).

Liberal councillor Shayne Mallard, who was at a briefing on the guidelines, said the first hint of the new policy was when Tim Tams disappeared from meetings. "We are being dictated to by a radical green agenda telling us what fish we can eat, what water we drink and banning eggs or Tim Tams instead of focusing on issues like saving jobs," Mr Mallard said.

"Council staff told me Tim Tams were banned because 80 per cent of world cocoa production comes from the Ivory Coast, where there are allegations of child labour." An Arnott's spokeswoman said only a very limited supply of chocolate was from the Ivory Coast. "But this supplier is a member of the International Cocoa Initiative, which is dedicated to ensuring no child is exploited in the growing of cocoa and to ending child and forced labour," she said.

Requests for comment from Ms Moore were declined yesterday but a spokeswoman said: "No particular brand of food or drink has been identified as being off the menu." In a memo obtained by The Daily Telegraph, the council's environmental projects manager Kirsten Woodward said the council would serve only cruelty-free and healthy options. "Vegan, vegetarian and lactose intolerant options have also been developed for future events," Ms Woodward's memo said.


1 comment:

John A said...

In re school lunch menus -

"Caterers say that teenagers will vote with their feet, choosing to eat elsewhere."

Well, not in [parts of] Scotland, where they are locked in during lunch and the grounds are patrolled to be sure parents (or take-away outlets) do not pass food through the fences.

Not that this is new, here in the US the must-not-leave-school-grounds rule was in place at the schools I attended circa 1950-1963. OTOH, enforcement of the rule was rare.