FAQs on school food standards

Click on a question to reveal the response.

What difference do the school food standards make?

Pupils having school meals have healthier options on their plates since the introduction of school food standards:

  • Three quarters of primary school children eating school meals now have veg or salad in their average school lunch, and are eating more of their 5-a-day at school – click here to read our report.
  • The amount of food being wasted in the dining room hasn’t increased.
  • Levels of salt, saturated fat, fat and sugar are all down in the average school lunch.
  • The proportion of secondary school pupils on school meals who had chips for their lunch went down from 43% in 2004 to 7% in 2011 – click here to read our report.

A revised set of school food standards became statutory from 1st January 2015. The legislation which underpins these standards is available from here. We advised on their development.

How and why were the school food standards first introduced?

The first national school food standards were rolled out gradually from 2006 to 2009.

In July 2013, an independent review called the School Food Plan recommended that government create a clearer set of standards, accompanied by practical guidance, that:

  • provided caterers with a framework on which to build interesting, creative and nutritionally-balanced menus; and
  • was less burdensome and operationally cheaper to implement than the previous standards

These new school food standards were announced in June 2014 and came into force from January 2015. We helped develop and test them with schools and caterers.

Do schools and caterers still need to nutritionally analyse their menus?

No. The current standards are based around what types of food schools should provide, in what portion sizes and how often. By following our practical guide, you’ll be dishing up lunch which hits the mark.

Will the new standards apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

No. The new school food standards only apply to schools in England. Click for information on school food in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Do schools have to provide a hot meal?

The standards do not specify that food must be hot, but it’s more difficult to meet these standards and give children enough variety through providing only cold meals.

Do the standards include requirements on portion sizes?

The standards specify how often different types of food and drink can provided. Guidance on typical portion sizes is included in the guidance for schools, cooks and caterers.

Do the new standards apply to packed lunches and snacks bought in from home?

No. Your school needs to decide how you want to manage packed lunches and snacks brought from home. Here’s an example of how to implement a healthy packed lunch policy.

Who do the school food standards apply to?

  • The school food standards apply to the food and drink provided in:
    local authority-maintained primary, secondary, special schools and pupil referral units in England
  • non-maintained special schools
  • academies (established before September 2010) and academies and free schools signing new funding agreements from June 2014
  • sixth forms that are part of secondary schools, (even those in a separate building or on a different site), but not sixth form colleges or further education colleges
  • maintained nursery schools and nursery units within primary schools
  • after school clubs run on school premises.

The standards do not apply to independent schools or to food and drink provided after 6pm, or during weekends or school holidays.

The standards don’t cover special occasions like parties or celebrations to mark religious or cultural occasions, food provided every now and then by parents or pupils, fundraising events, rewards for achievement or food used in lessons.

However, if your school’s serious about promoting healthy eating, it’s a great idea to stick to healthy options and to give pupils other sorts of rewards – stickers never cease to be popular with little ones, whilst vouchers for music and books always go down well with older pupils!

Do the new school food standards apply to boarding schools?

Maintained boarding schools do have to meet the standards.

Don’t forget, the standards apply to all food and drink provided before 6pm on a school day, so boarding schools need to factor this in for evening meals served before 6pm, vending machines and tuckshops, as well as breakfast and lunch. There is an exemption in The Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014, so that evening meals provided before 6pm in boarding schools do not have to meet all of the food-based standards that apply to other schools. This exemption means that evening meals can include confectionery, snacks, cakes or biscuits.

Is food provided on school trips required to meet the new standards?

The new standards apply to food and drink provided by the local authority or governing body on school trips lasting at least seven days. Food provided on day trips and residential trips lasting less than seven days doesn’t have to comply, but where schools are providing lunches for pupils on day trips, we would encourage these to meet the standards wherever possible.

How do we cater for children with allergies or special dietary requirements?

Schools are expected to take reasonable steps to cater for allergies and special diets as part of your school meals service. We recommend schools develop a policy and follow a clear procedure to make sure all requests for a special diet are handled efficiently and appropriately. It is good practice for these requirements to be written into any contracts that are developed with caterers. Catering providers and local authorities may already have policies and procedures in place.

Do schools need to provide allergen information for the foods they provide to pupils?

Yes, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, enforced in the UK by the Food Information Regulations 2014, applies to all food businesses, including schools, early years settings and hospitals from 13  December 2014.

These Regulations mean that schools and early years settings have a legal responsibility to provide correct information about the allergens that are contained in the food and drink they make or serve to pupils. The 14 allergens covered by the requirements are celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide. Information can be provided in a written format (e.g. listed on menus or standard recipes), or available for staff to explain verbally to parents and children.

It is important that the information provided on the 14 allergens is correct and consistent, and that processes are in place to ensure the allergen information is updated as required, and that staff know how to access and explain this (e.g. through policies and training).

To provide this information, schools and early years settings (or their caterers) will need to think about the ingredients used in each dish they prepare, and check which allergens are present in each ingredient (e.g. by checking product labels or specifications, or by checking with suppliers).
You’ll find lots more on our allergies and intolerances page.

I need specific help to understand and meet the standards for one of the food groups. Can you help?

Contact us if you have specific questions about meeting the standards for a particular food group.

Questions about school food served outside lunchtime

Do we have to provide fruit and vegetables in all school food outlets like breakfast clubs and tuckshops?

Yes – at least one option per outlet. We recommend providing both a fruit and a vegetable option.

Can we serve homemade cakes and biscuits at mid-morning break and after school clubs? What about malt loaf and fruit bread?

Cakes (whether homemade or bought in) can only be served at lunchtime, as they can be high in fat and/or sugar. This includes cookies and flapjacks, scones and pastries such as croissants. Breadsticks and crackers are classed as savoury biscuits, and should not be provided at times other than lunch.

Malt loaf and other bread type products like bagels, currant and fruit bread, crumpets, tea cakes and English muffins can be served at any time, as these tend to be lower in fat and sugar.

Can we serve desserts at after school clubs?

The only desserts you can serve at an after school club are fruit, yoghurt and fruit-based desserts containing at least 50% fruit. It is good practice to provide yoghurts that are low in sugar, and sweeten using fruit.

Can we provide bacon or sausage sandwiches at breakfast clubs?

Sausages are classed as a meat product. Sausage sandwiches can be provided once a week in primary schools, and twice a week in secondary schools, but if provided at breakfast club, couldn’t be provided at any other time in the same week.

Bacon is not a meat product, so provision of bacon is not restricted. However, as bacon is high in salt, we wouldn’t recommend serving it every day. Try reduced sugar baked beans or scrambled eggs as a hot alternative to bacon.

Why aren't processed fruit bars allowed, especially as they can provide one of your 5-a-day?

Processed fruit bars are classed as confectionery, so cannot be provided in schools at any time of the day. The processing releases the sugar from the cells within the fruit, and can do more damage to children’s teeth than plain dried fruit.

As plain dried fruit is permitted, fruit bars made solely from compacted dried fruit (where the outline of the fruit is clearly visible) are permitted in schools. These can be provided at any time of the day, but schools may choose to provide them at mealtimes only, to help protect children’s teeth. We would consider that products that have undergone more processing than simply compacting dried fruit to be confectionery.

Questions about monitoring the new school food standards

Who is responsible for ensuring these standards are met in Schools?

Governing bodies are legally responsible for meeting the school food standards. There’s information on this from the Department for Education here.

How are the standards going to be evaluated and monitored?

As one of the actions from the School Food Plan, the Department for Education has committed to assess the nutritional quality of the food available, and plan to use nutritional standards surveys carried out from 2004-2006 as a baseline. The impact of the new standards on food provision and children’s food choices and consumption will be assessed once they have had an opportunity to bed down in schools.

Will Ofsted be assessing schools’ adherence to the new standards?

new Ofsted Common Inspection Framework is being introduced in September 2015 for schools and other settings. As part of this framework, Ofsted are giving wellbeing, health and healthy eating a more prominent place in inspection. This will include looking at the extent to which you support pupils to gain knowledge of how to keep themselves healthy, including through exercise and healthy eating. Inspectors will visit your canteen, look at the food on offer and the atmosphere and culture in the dining room and the effect on behaviour.