Healthy school dinners - chips with every serving as long as they're not crinkle-cut

Children's favourite school dinner - chips - may stay on the menu but they should be thick or oven-cooked, according to the first government guidelines on school meals for 17 years. They should also be straight rather than crinkle-cut, because straight chips absorb less fat.

Hamburgers should be more bun and less burger. And in spaghetti bolognese the spaghetti should far exceed the bolognese.

The guidelines, produced after a series of alarming reports about the unhealthy state of children's diets, were immediately condemned by unions, because they are voluntary.

Legislation removed nutritional standards for school meals in 1980. The new guidelines emphasise that healthy school meals are possible even on a tight budget.

Schools should offer plenty of cereals, bread and potatoes (mashed and jacket as well as chips.) Vegetables should be lightly steamed and beans and pulses should be added to meat.

Fat should account for no more than 35 per cent of the food energy in school meals and sugars no more than 11 per cent. Carbohydrates should account for at least 11 per cent. Cheryl Gillan, the schools minister, announced the changes during a visit to Argyle Primary School, King's Cross, London, which has a healthy-eating policy run by pupils on a school council.

Mrs Gillan tucked in to a plate of lasagne, potato, sweetcorn and peas after turning down a fishcake. She said: "It is a fact of life that many children enjoy chips. School food has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Greasy chips and soggy vegetables should be a thing of the past. With the help of this guidance, I want to see school food get even better."

Since 1988 all schools have been obliged to put school meals out to competitive tender. Ben Priestley, assistant national officer for Unison, the public service union, said: "Without the necessary backing under legislation, the guidelines, however good, can still be ignored by school-meals providers, particularly those private contractors motivated by profit."

He said the nutritional standards of the 4 million school meals served daily varied greatly across the country.

The Department for Education said they were not making the guidelines compulsory because they wanted to avoid putting unnecessary burdens on schools. It was not for the Government to dictate the content of school dinners.

Labour called for nutritional guidelines for school meals last summer.

r Research shows children have more creativity and stamina if they have a good breakfast. They make fewer mistakes in tests and work faster.

The paper, which is by David Wyon, of the National Institute for Occupational Health in Copenhagen, is based on a study of 200 10-year-olds and was published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition.

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