New Food Standards: What are the loopholes?

(Updated since September 2014)

I have just asked if you are for or against free school meals and looked at some of their benefits (go to my earlier blog here). Now I come onto the parts of the revised School Food Standards I approve of and those I am not sure about…………..particularly the sugar and salt content of foods.

Am I missing something?

You can view the School Food Standard guidelines here but I want to talk about the ‘issues’ I have with them. Now I think of myself as a fairly intelligent person. Sadly the frequency of ‘senior moments’ is increasing and please don’t expect to have any coherent conversation with me on a Saturday morning but there are some parts of these guidelines I simply don’t get. Perhaps it’s because these guidelines are just that. Guidelines. I am not sure they are as clear as they could be.  Just because I may be misinterpreting them, I acknowledge not everyone will but these are my opinions as they say:


  • One or more portions of food from this group every day. OK that’s good; that means plenty of energy provided from foods like pasta, rice and potatoes.
  • Three or more different starchy foods each week. Great, so they get variety.
    One or more wholegrain varieties of starchy food each week. OK, not bad; a minimum of 1 out of 5 starchy food is wholegrain, which at this age is acceptable.
  • Starchy food cooked in fat or oil no more than two days each week (applies across the whole school day). Hmmm, could be better (a once per week limit would be better when you consider the foods rich in salt, sugar & fat further down this list).
  • Bread – with no added fat or oil – must be available every day. I am unclear about this. Is this on top of the starchy foods already listed? I guess so. At least the hungry ones can fill themselves up but bread contains quite a bit of salt – is this overdoing it a bit? Are they allowed to go back for seconds instead?



  • One or more portions of vegetables (pulses come under this too) or salad as an accompaniment every day
  • One or more portions of fruit every day
  • Limiting fruit juice portions to 150ml  Good, this is now meeting current recommendations and water will be emphasised as the drink of choice.
  • A dessert containing at least 50% fruit two or more times each week. Can we have more emphasis on fresh desserts if desserts cake and biscuits are allowed every day as stated below?
  • At least three different fruits and three different vegetables each week That looks good to me (4 would be great though!)

These are all still great to see.



  • A portion of food from this group every day. This is vague to me – this could include milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream, with no maximum provision stated; some of these foods are not mentioned under the foods high in salt (cheese), fat and added sugar (custard, ice-cream etc.). Could they end up having cheese every day? The salt content of food should be considered in this case.
  • Lower fat milk must be available for drinking at least once a day during school hours PLUS free, fresh drinking water at all times. Great but wouldn’t drinking ‘just’ water all day be ok? I take it this lower fat milk is semi-skimmed? children under 5 should not have skimmed.


  • A portion of food from this group every day. Great.
  • A portion of meat or poultry on three or more days each week. OK, this looks good.
  • Oily fish once or more every three weeks. Considering that children are not eating enough oily fish, this seems very limited to me. Once ever 3 weeks vs they should be having oily fish twice per week is a long way off the mark.
  • For vegetarians, a portion of non-dairy protein on three or more days each week. OK, that compares with non-vegetarians but there is a need to emphasise variety here.
  • A meat or poultry product (manufactured or homemade, and meeting the legal requirements) no more than once each week (applies across the whole school day) I really don’t understand what this means! Does it refer to processed food in which case why does it say homemade? Does it mean food like homemade cottage pie or lasagne? What about a homemade stew or burger with good quality meat? How does this guideline refer to the foods high in fat, salt and sugar?



  • No more than two portions of food that have been deep-fried, batter-coated, or breadcrumb-coated, each week (applies across the whole school day)
  • No more than two portions of food which include pastry each week (applies across the whole school day)

Having said children can have starchy food cooked in fat or oil twice a week (any type of chip for example), this could read children can have this plus 2 portions of battered or bread-crumbed meat or fish plus another 2 portions  of food cooked in pastry. Have I read this wrong?

My issue is that it is confusing when the 6 food groups overlap.

I see the focus is on limiting foods rich in fat, salt and sugar but isn’t there the potential for children to be offered fried food or pastry 4 if not 5 days of the week? There are poor examples of school meals out there (and some great ones too!) but think this isn’t going to help improve the situation.  I appreciate schools are in a transition period but is this not a loophole that schools can get through? I think the boundaries need to be brought in further.

  • No snacks, except nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit with no added salt, sugar or fat (applies across the whole school day) Sounds sensible to me!
  • Savoury crackers or bread sticks can be served at lunch with fruit or vegetables or dairy food. OK
  • No confectionery or chocolate but desserts, cakes and biscuits are allowed at lunchtime I have a slight problem with this as every day they could be having a sugary pudding. Children have high energy requirements (read about this here) but how is this helping to cut down on sugar intake? There needs to be more emphasis on lower sugar desserts.

What is the definition of high? If there is no nutrient analysis, how can schools identify foods that are if they are not using nutrient based standards? Should I assume that schools make meals for all children using both the food and nutrient based standards and just year 1 and 2 get them for free?

  • Salt must not be available to add to food after it has been cooked. Great but there is no real mention of the salt hidden in foods (this is around 75% of the salt we consume each day). Total Sodium intake during the day needs to be considered (from foods like cheese, bread and crackers for example).

Another important loophole is these standards do not yet apply to around 4,000 schools that became academies between September 2010 and 2014. This means that more than two million children are attending schools that do not have to comply! In relation to this – please read this article published today that could see up to 4,000 schools still serving turkey twizzlers. Yikes!!  Thankfully the Local Government Association has made a call today for the new standards to be mandatory for all . So we shall see what happens next…………….I also hope they quickly implement a monitoring system too as until they do, how will be now what schools are actually offering?!

So if anyone out there can shed some light on this, please do. Or these revised guidelines are still not clear and need tightening up in order to achieve what they are supposed to – significantly improve the quality and nutritional value of children’s meals!

Over to you please……………………………………….


2 thoughts on “New Food Standards: What are the loopholes?

  1. melwakeman

    Thanks for your question Phil – sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.
    The short answer to your question is yes, it does matter how much salt children have.
    If I could point you to an earlier post of mine about salt – it is important to know that children’s bodies are simply not mature or efficient enough to handle a lot of salt – this is why children have a much lower recommended intake. We know a lot about the effect too much has on health; high blood pressure being one of the most common problem. High blood pressure is now being seen in children and this will increase the risk of them developing other heart problems later in life.

    The problem with high blood pressure is that you can’t see it – you can’t tell by looking at someone if they have it so it is hard to know how many people are walking around with high blood pressure and an increase risk of other diseases.

    If you are eat a healthy diet most of the time, exercise etc and generally lead a healthy life, salt is not a problem but we simply don’t need that much in our diet and are advised to have no more than 6g a day to protect us from disease. This 6g is evidence based, unlike the hypothesis you mention around salt and food intake. There is plenty of salt in every day foods that it’s pretty unlikely you will be on a very low salt diet and not meet your body’s requirements. Anyway, have a read of my blog 🙂


  2. PhilT

    Is salt even an issue in children ? I’m not convinced it’s an issue in adults with normal blood pressure. Not to mention the hypothesis that reduced salt in foods leads to over-eating to gain the bodies requirement for sodium.


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