In September 2017 new Nutrition Standards for the States School Meals Programme were published under the auspices of Healthy Ireland, the national Framework which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the population of Ireland. The standards were developed with the assistance of safe food and the Health Service Executive, in cooperation with members of the Schools Meals Programme in the Department of Employment Affairs and the Department of Education.
One of the four goals of Healthy Ireland is to reduce health inequalities, and “giving children the best start” is recognised as an objective likely to reduce inequalities in society. This also reflects the priority under the national child policy framework ‘Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures’ to reduce child poverty.
Serious concerns over the standard of school meals, and the availability to students of food and drinks that are high in sugar, salt and fat have repeatedly been raised in recent years, due to the growing issue of obesity in Ireland. Research indicates that one in four children on the island of Ireland is carrying excess weight.
The Schools Meals Programme, which has a budget of almost €50 million, benefits almost 250,000 children across Ireland, with priority given to those in DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programmes. It is expected that this new initiative will help to encourage better school attendance and educational achievement by children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Only healthy food choices that meet the standards will be funded for Breakfast clubs, school lunches, snacks, after school clubs and school dinners.
The standards outline healthy and balanced choices for each meal and snack and are aligned with the revised Food Pyramid and guidelines.
The Nutrition Standards will be implemented through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection’s arrangements to oversee the programme. In addition, all schools providing meals and food outside of the State scheme will be encouraged to use the Nutrition Standards to support a ‘whole school approach’ to healthy eating policies and healthy lifestyle programmes.
Details of the standards can be found here.