Greens push for greener school meals

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Deputy Chair of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee has written to the education secretary to request changes to school meal standards

 Greens have written to education minister Gavin Williamson asking for a change to the rules that apply to school meals, so that schools can encourage children to adopt healthy eating habits while reducing their carbon footprint.

The School Food Standards mandate schools to serve meat and dairy at least three days a week. However Greens say it’s vital schools are given greater capacity and flexibility to provide more options for sustainable, plant based or vegan foods [1]

In a letter to Gavin Williamson, Greens have raised concerns with the standards and asked for changes. This follows a deputation at last full council in which residents asked for more plant-based food to be served in schools.

In the letter to the minister, Cllr Elaine Hills, deputy chair of the Children, Young People and Skills committee, states: [2]

 To mitigate against both the worst effects of the climate crisis and a future health crisis, we need to move to a food system that maximises the health of our children along with that of our planet.

 Here in Brighton and Hove, the wellbeing of our residents and future generations is of primary importance to us and we have committed to becoming a carbon neutral city by 2030. To help us achieve this, we’d like to be able to reduce the carbon footprint of our food as much as we can. Moreover, an increasing number of parents have told us they are keen for school meals to reflect the diversity of food and eating habits that now take place at home, and that many young people would appreciate a wider range of plant-based options.

We would like to be able to give the governing bodies, staff and most of all, children in our schools the option of going meat free if they so choose, or to at least be able to increase the number of plant-based options in schools. However, the current National Food Standards on school meals means we are unable to go as far as we’d like to.

 I’m very pleased that the Government’s advice on a healthy, balanced diet, the Eatwell Guide, acknowledges the benefit of plant-based eating by putting beans and pulses first in the proteins section, and advising people to eat more of these. [3] Applying guidelines based on the Eatwell standards to schools would make it possible for schoolchildren to be served plant-based meals at lunchtimes. But unfortunately, the somewhat anachronistic requirement that mandates schools to serve animal-derived food limits schools’ capacity to offer different, varied and more climate-friendly foods to our children.

 “By improving the school meals guidance, I believe we can also seek to simultaneously educate our children about the whole cycle of food production and consumption.
Learning about the impact of food on our health and on our planet at an early age, through education and offering more varied food choices, has the potential to become fundamental to our children’s education; and can help future generations develop good eating habits.”

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 Meanwhile, work is being done in schools in Brighton and Hove to consider how more sustainable, meat-free meals can be brought into the menu cycle, bearing in mind the need to reduce food waste.

Education chiefs are working with heads and teaching staff to look at how children can best learn about the impact food has on the planet.

Cllr Hills is also in talks with council chiefs about ways in which the council can increase the number of plant-based options on offer at council-run establishments.

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