Childhood obesity

New report outlines measures to improve access to healthy school food

4 November 2020

This week we publish Serving up Children’s Health, a new report that investigates the food young people are really being served at school.

In 2013 the School Food Plan introduced the School Food Standards to ensure all food served in schools and academies in England met a minimum threshold of nutritional quality. The principle behind these standards is that every child deserves access to the food they need to be healthy. It means being healthy no matter where they live or what sort of school they go to. Our report suggests this principle is not yet translating into practice.


Standards exist on paper, not on plates

We reviewed the food provided at 60 primary and secondary schools across a London borough. In many cases, we found that the School Food Standards exist on paper but not on kids’ plates. This is likely to be mirrored in other urban areas.

This postcode lottery in the quality of food our children are eating disproportionately affects young people living in lower income neighbourhoods. Some schools and caterers are offering nutritious and tasty food each day. Yet, they are the exception, not the rule, and the system offers no real incentive to prioritise young people’s health.


Our recommendations

The report recommends key areas of change to ensure all children can access nutritious school food. They include:

  • Greater guidance from Department for Education to help schools find and maintain the best possible food provision
  • Free school meals to be extended to school holidays and offered to young people most at risk of experiencing health inequality. This includes those from families with no recourse to public funds
  • National and local government to put in place mechanisms that monitor School Food Standards. It should include holding schools and catering companies to account publicly

Henry Dimbleby, a non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wrote the foreword for the report. He comments: “We are, I think, 15 years into a 30-year struggle to raise the status of school food. And this report is a bracing reminder of what has been achieved, and want remains to be done. It not only highlights problems, but it also offers solutions – ways in which we can improve procurement, funding and accountability.”

The report comes at a time when the importance of school food to young people’s health is in the national spotlight.

All young people deserve access to nutritious food, no matter where they go to school. In light of high-profile public campaigns to extend Free School Meal eligibility, and drastic changes to school life in the aftermath of COVID-19, our report shows that there’s never been a more important time to put children’s health at the heart of the school food system.

Rebecca Sunter Portfolio Manager for childhood obesity
Woman preparing school dinner

Serving up children's health

How can we ensure children and young people are served nutritious food at school? New report details how School Food Standards aren't being consistently met, and suggests changes to the system that would put kid’s health first.

Read the report