It’s International School Meals Day on 12th March. Whether its references to five, or even seven, a day, the amount of sugar in so-called healthy food, or the colour coded nutritional information on food we buy, there is definitely more of a focus on how healthy our diets are today than there used to be. There is also a big focus on how healthy school dinners are. A few years ago, a school girl in Scotland set up a blog to record her daily school dinners – and ended up with 10 million hits. Even ‘celebrity chef’ Jamie Oliver has been involved trying to improve the food that is on offer in school canteens. So what’s the story with school dinners?

Changing school dinners

Whether you enjoy your school meals or not, the food on offer in schools these days is very different from what was on offer a few years ago. Ask your parents and they may tell you stories of pink blancmange (what even IS that?) or very sad looking slices of meat (is that beef?), boiled potatoes and veg that tasted like it had been cooked for 6 weeks. These days there is much more emphasis on ensuring a varied selection of meals on offer, providing enough energy and nutrition to help you deal with whatever the school day has to throw at you – even if it is a maths exam! But what should your school dinners include? And what can you do if you don’t get a decent meal during the day?

Did you know that you have a right to nutritious food?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says, in Article 24, that you should have access to nutritious foods and information on healthy living. It’s part of your right to have the best health that you can where you live.

The Welsh Government want to improve how healthy we are, and improve how well children and young people do in school. As part of this, the Welsh Government and National Assembly have done several things to try and make school dinners healthier, and make them more available to children.

In 2009, the National Assembly for Wales passed the Healthy Eating in Schools (Wales) Measure. This means that local authorities and school governing bodies should promote healthy eating and drinking by pupils. The schools inspectorate for Wales (Estyn) must keep Welsh Ministers informed about what schools are doing to follow these rules.

The Welsh Government also set out in the Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards and Requirements) (Wales) Regulations 2013 what sort of foods should be in an average school lunch as well as food and drink requirements throughout the school day.

If you’ve been to breakfast club at school, you won’t have to pay for it, thanks to the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013.  Local authorities must provide free breakfasts for primary school children in Wales. The breakfasts have to follow the nutritional standards and requirements set out in the Regulations mentioned above.

More broadly, the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 sets out A Healthier Wales as one of our national wellbeing goals. One of the ‘indicators’ in the Future Generations Act is focused on healthy lifestyle behaviours, including healthy eating.

What should be in my school dinners – and what sort of food should be available in school?

The Local Authority where you live is responsible for the food in your school. The Welsh Government has created some Guidance, which explains in more details what should be included in your school dinners. It looks at what’s in the Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards and Requirements) (Wales) Regulations 2013 and gives more information about what should and shouldn’t be on offer in your school canteen, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or snacks at break. There should only be chips on the menu twice a week at most, and you should always be able to have hot vegetables or a salad. Fish should be on the menu twice a week, and oily fish, like salmon or mackerel should be available at least twice in any 4 week period. You can read the Guidance here to find out more details about what should be in your school dinners.

What can I do if my school dinners aren’t healthy?

What is a ‘healthy school dinner’ is based on what’s in the rules and guidance set out by Welsh Government which we’ve talked about in this blog. It’s about achieving balance and making sure you have the opportunity to make healthy choices when you choose what to have for your school dinner. If you don’t think your school is providing school dinners that meet the standards in the Guidance, you have a few different options:

  • School Council

Your School Council is a good place to raise issues in school that affect every pupil – like school dinners. If you’re not on the School Council, find out who does sit on the School Council and ask one of them to share your worries about school dinners with the School Council. We’ve got more information about School Councils on our website here.

  • School Governors

The School Governors are a group of people who look after the overall running of the school and are there to make sure that things stay on track. If you (or your parents) are concerned about school dinners, you can complain to the School Governors. If your school dinners are organised centrally by the Local Authority, there may not be much that the Governors can do, so you may need to complain to the Local Authority.

  • Local Authority

Every Local Authority has a complaints procedure. You can find out your Local Authority here.

On International School Meals Day, with the theme of Sharing Our Successes, we want to know if you think your school gets it right with the meals it offers? You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you’re allowed to take a picture of your school dinner why not share it with us (or get an adult to share it for you if you don’t have social media)? We would love to hear from you!