Press Release Monday 25th September 2017

New Healthy Eating Standards for School Meals launched

The Minister for Health, the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection today (Monday) jointly launched new Nutrition Standards for the State’s School Meals Programme. These will ensure the programme follows the national Healthy Eating Guidelines.

The introduction of the new nutrition standards means that only healthy food choices that meet the Standards will be funded for breakfast clubs, school lunches and snacks, afterschool clubs and school dinners.

The School Meals programme, which has a budget of almost €50 million, benefits almost 250,000 children across Ireland, with priority being given to those schools in the DEIS programme.

The Standards outline healthy and balanced choices for each meal or snack, which align with the revised food pyramid and guidelines. They state that certain foods and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar should be not be offered to children and will not be funded. The Standards also emphasise that milk and water are the best drinks to serve children.

Speaking at the launch Minister for Health Simon Harris said “Good nutrition for children and ensuring they are given healthy foods is a key priority for me and the Department of Health. This is important for maintaining a healthy weight for children, as well as supporting healthy growth and development. These new Standards will ensure the provision of regular and nutritious food to all the children who benefit from this very important scheme and will make a major contribution towards their lifelong health. I know that this simple measure will have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of many children and their families across Ireland.”

Minister Doherty said “My Department has increased the funding for the School Meals Programme by €5.5 million this year which will benefit over 250,000 children in the coming school year – this number continues to grow as more and more schools sign up for the School Meals Programme including the recently designated DEIS schools. This is an important Programme which helps encourage better school attendance and educational achievement by children, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. The introduction of these Standards will ensure that the State’s investment in this important scheme is even more beneficial to children and their families, and help support the broader aims of good school attendance and educational achievement which are key to addressing child poverty.”

Also speaking at the launch, Minister Bruton added “I am delighted to welcome these new Healthy Eating Standards. I believe they will enhance the current School Meals Programme, which we as a Government expanded this year to an extra 245 schools, including a further 47,000 students. Tackling child poverty and educational disadvantage is a key priority of mine as Minister. Indeed giving children every possible opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their circumstances, is central to our DEIS Plan 2017 which we launched earlier this year. The provision of healthy food is a fantastic contribution to this plan and one of a range of supports provided to DEIS schools.”

Minister Byrne said “The health and wellbeing of children and young people is a priority for every Department under Healthy Ireland, and preventing child obesity is a particular priority. We published new Healthy Eating Guidelines and a revised Food Pyramid earlier this year, and these were recently sent to every school in the country. Now having these Standards for School Meals will further support everyone’s efforts to ensure that our children have healthier food choices available to them as the norm, as this is so important to every child having a good start in their health and educational development”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Nutrition Standards for School Meals

The Standards were developed by the Department of Health with the assistance of safefood and the Health Service Executive, in cooperation with the members of the School Meals Programme in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Education and Skills.

The Standards are being published under the auspices of Healthy Ireland. 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.

The 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 Standards to support a ‘whole school approach’ to healthy eating policies and healthy lifestyle programmes.