Restaurant owners to review school meals

Michael Gove Michael Gove announced the review at a school in Hackney on Wednesday

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Two founders of a restaurant chain have been asked to carry out a review of school food in England.

Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent run the London-based Leon chain, which markets itself as offering healthy fast food.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has invited them to look at nutrition in schools and see how it can be improved.

But TV chef Jamie Oliver, who has long campaigned for better school meals, hit out at the announcement, saying it was "not the time for more costly reports".

'Radical' recommendations

Visiting a primary school in Hackney, London on Wednesday, Mr Gove said the review would take the reforms instigated by Jamie Oliver's campaign to "the next level".

He also countered previous criticism by the celebrity chef about the quality of food in academies, which are not under local-authority control, insisting there was "no evidence" that their food was any worse than in state schools.

Start Quote

Will this be just another report by good people which is destined to be ignored?”

End Quote Jamie Oliver

Mr Dimbleby and Mr Vincent, whose food business is based in London and south-east England, will visit schools, talk to experts and study research for their review.

Mr Gove has said the action plan they come up with can be "radical". They will report back to him in 2013.

Mr Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon, said: "Jamie Oliver shone a light and made people see how bad things were. It's a lot better on average than it was, but it's still not good enough in a lot of schools."

Delays

In a statement, Mr Oliver said: "Now is not the time for more costly reports. Now is the time for action and that doesn't seem to be what we get from Mr Gove when it comes to school food and food education.

SCHOOL DINNERS IN ENGLAND

  • Almost all schools offer fruit, vegetables or salad at lunchtime (at least one portion)
  • In primary schools 57% of pupils now take vegetables in their average lunch, 23% take salad, 40% take fruit or a fruit-based dessert
  • The average number of portions of fruit and veg on children's plates is 2.2 and the average number of portions they eat is 1.6
  • 35% of primary pupils consume at least 2 portions of fruit and veg in their school lunch and 50% consumed at least 1.5 portions
  • In secondary schools, 98% of schools offer veg and salad and 96% offer fruit
  • 72% of secondary pupils take some veg, salad or veg as part of their school lunch
  • The average number of portions of fruit and veg that they eat is 0.8
  • 61% of secondary pupils now take foods containing veg, fruit, salad, beans or pulses as a part of their lunch

Source: School Food Trust

"This just delays action for another year or more.

"I'm fairly confident that the gentlemen from Leon will end up pushing for the same things that I, and many others, have been pushing for years, but the question is, will Mr Gove listen?

"Will this be just another report by good people which is destined to be ignored? I hope not, but I fear it will."

In April, Mr Oliver said he was "totally mystified" that academies were allowed to determine what food should be on offer, while state schools had to follow strict rules.

He accused Mr Gove of endangering pupils' nutrition.

The TV chef had led a campaign to improve school meals, and this led to new, tougher regulations being brought in covering the nutritional standards of school meals.

The Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) said it was disappointed that another review of school food was to take place and not report until 2013.

National Chair Lynda Mitchell said: "As the voice of the industry, LACA expects to be consulted to bring our expertise and front line experience of school food delivery and working with schools to this review.

"We hope it will lead to a clear commitment from the government to ensure that children in all schools have the same access to healthy nutritious food."

Standards

In 2008, nutrient standards came into force for lunches in primary schools and the following year for secondary schools.

According to the School Food Trust, take up of school lunches is 38% in secondary school and 44% in primary.

The trust says 98% of schools were offering veg and salad four-to-five days a week and 96% offered fruit.

But it says that half of secondary schools offer pizzas and starchy food cooked in oil on most days.

"Our research has already highlighted areas where there's a clear need for further improving and building on the achievements of the last seven years," said the trust's chief executive, Judy Hargadon.

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