Last reviewed 17 November 2021

Bite Back 2030, a charity founded by chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver, has issued a report aiming to give students’ views on the standard of school meals.

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“Young people spend 190 days of the year in school, and what we eat there is incredibly important,” it points out. “Having healthy food at school significantly improves our chance of performing well in class.”

The report also highlights that school is also the only place where it is possible to be absolutely certain that all children, no matter where they live, are getting a decent meal.

It is based on 10 panel discussions that brought together, over the summer of 2021, young people aged between 13 and 18 from across England.

Acknowledging that the report may seem to be overwhelmingly negative, the charity insists that it is a true reflection of what the young people said.

“A number of insights suggest that the School Food Standards are routinely not being upheld,” the report states, “with participants talking about Skittles and other confectionery on offer, and fried foods and processed meats being served more than twice a week.”

Participants also said that healthier options typically cost more and are often excluded from promotions such as meal deals.

A key finding is the variety of experiences secondary school pupils have when it comes to school food, with some schools prioritising nutrition and others “stuck in canteen systems” that are not equipped to put the health of pupils front and centre.

Recommendations

Among the changes proposed by the report are:

  • consulting with pupils about the food that is served and taking their views into account

  • going vegetarian/plant-based for the whole school at least twice a week while also ensuring the options provided are made of healthy, whole foods rather than processed substitutes

  • ensuring there is at least one vegetarian option at every lunchtime and that it is as affordable as the meat alternative

  • reorganising the canteen to put healthy options in the spotlight

  • ensuring free drinking water is available throughout the school at all times

  • establishing a crisis-response process to ensure that in future, the quality of food is not undermined as it was during the Covid-19 pandemic

  • following the School Food Standards while taking steps to go further, by registering for the Food for Life Schools Award and signing the Chefs in Schools Charter.