School food

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School food gives multiple opportunities for provision of tasty and nutritious meals and snacks, as well as for fun social experiences and interactions. Food eaten at lunchtime is about a third of daily intake, and possibly more for some pupils, and so it is important that eating in school is enjoyable, appealing, nutritious, and tasty!  

School Food Standards

When it comes to school food provision, there is national guidance that set out details around the quality and types of food that should be available to pupils across the school day – that’s including breakfast clubs, breaktimes, after school activities, and at tuck shops too. The standards have been designed around the UK’s dietary guidelines, the Eatwell Guide, and aim to help pupils develop good eating habits and ensure they have the required energy and nutrients they need for the school day. 

All catering providers and in-house cooks should make sure that all menus adhere to the School Food Standards.  Included in the guidance there are handy check-lists available to benchmark your menus against the standards, both for lunches and for food served throughout the rest of the day. However, the standards represent a baseline requirement rather than describing a gold standard, and it’s great to be ambitious and improve upon the standards further if you are able to! 

When developing school menus, it is a great opportunity for your caterer to try to use local and seasonal produce where possible. Not only does this support local producers, but it can also be better for the environment to reduce food miles and can help to showcase the variety of the seasons to pupils. The Government has produced guidance for sustainable procurement, helping caterers and cooks source food sustainably and responsibly. 

If you are interested in improving your food provision, please see the section on sustainability for some top tips to consider.  

Having a nutritious breakfast sets us up right for the day – no matter our age. Making sure we eat in the morning can help us focus, give us energy to do the things we want and need to, and can help improve our mood. For pupils coming into school, these things are especially important, and evidence shows that having breakfast before school can improve concentration, readiness to learn, participation, behaviour, and overall wellbeing.  

In our Pupil Wellbeing Survey in 2021, 80% of pupils at primary school told us they eat breakfast before school 4-5 days a week, with 6% of pupils saying they never eat breakfast before school. At secondary school, this picture worsens with only 60% of pupils eating breakfast 4-5 days a week, and 21% never eating breakfast before school. Additionally, children and young people who are from more disadvantaged areas are more likely to be impacted.  

Having a breakfast club can help to make sure that as many pupils as possible have the option of having breakfast before starting their day. Have you got a breakfast club in school? What benefits do you see? If you haven’t thought about it already, to maximise your breakfast club and extend its reach here is some food for thought: 

  • Is your breakfast club affordable?  
  • Does your breakfast club open at a convenient time for parents/caregivers? 
  • Is there a process of providing free or subsidised provision for pupils who need it most? For e.g., FSM and pupil premium 
  • Does the breakfast club operate in a way that doesn’t create stigma? E.g., being open to all.  
  • Have you considered the option of universal provision? For e.g., one year group one day per week. 
  • Are there any practical issues preventing you from having the type of club you want? 

If you are interested in setting up a breakfast club, or extending your current provision, there are some national funding programmes currently available which your school may be eligible for. Please contact us to talk through your ideas and options that might be available to you. 

Free School Meals provides essential support to eligible families by reducing the burden of some of the household’s food costs. Despite some of the benefits, research in Devon has shown that many eligible families are either unaware they can apply for FSM or choose not to. Receiving FSM entitlement has the potential to not only benefit pupils individually but can also benefit the school by generating vital pupil premium funding, which is allocated based on the number of Free School Meal applications. Maximising FSM uptake is a key action in ensuring families and schools can access the support they are entitled to.   

What is FSM uptake like in your school?  

  • Do you regularly promote FSM to parents/caregivers, and encourage all parents to check eligibility? 
  • Have you included information on FSM in new pupil information packs, outlining the additional benefits the school will receive? 
  • Are there opportunities available to support parents/caregivers with applying or checking their eligibility? Such as time to talk through the process, computer time and support.  
  • Are there ways to reduce any stigma that may be associated with FSM and be discouraging uptake? Are all pupils served lunch in the same way? 

Staying hydrated is essential for all of us, regardless of age. But hydration is particularly important for children as they usually have proportionately higher water requirements than adults. We can all overlook feelings of thirst, but children and young people are particularly vulnerable to becoming dehydrated, especially during activities or contexts that increase fluid loss, such as when doing PE, at breaktimes, and during warm weather.  

Even levels of mild dehydration can impact on wellbeing, causing tiredness, headaches, lack of concentration, reduced cognitive performance, and dry skin and eyes. For more information on dehydration, see our Heat Health page. 

Top tips for staying hydrated in school: 

  • Ensure access to drinking water and that pupils have frequent opportunities to refill water bottles  
  • Allow pupils to have access to their own re-useable water bottle throughout the school day, and provide access to water in the event pupils forget/do not have their own bottle  
  • Encourage pupils to drink throughout the day, especially after any type of physical activity and movement and in warm weather and particularly in younger children 
  • In particularly hot weather, consider waiving water only policies where necessary to minimise risk of dehydration (for example by allowing still diluted sugar-free squash) 
  • Consider and seek feedback on toilet availability and provision – the quality and felt safety of school toilets can influence how much pupils eat and drink throughout the day, potentially leading to a range of issues detrimental to health 


Essential signposting

Available Training & CPD

In partnership with Riverford, Chefs in Schools are offering a FREE programme to schools in Devon, which is designed to provide school kitchen teams with skills to lead the way in improving the food in their schools and help create a positive food culture. It is delivered through in-person and online sessions and is suitable for in-house and catered kitchen teams. To sign up or find out more, click the link below.

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