Monday 22 January 2018

Revealed: Nutritionists' plan to shake up menus for school children

Ministers Richard Bruton, Simon Harris and Regina Doherty at the launch of the Nutrition Standards for the School Meals Programme. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Ministers Richard Bruton, Simon Harris and Regina Doherty at the launch of the Nutrition Standards for the School Meals Programme. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Jam, marmalade and honey are banned from the breakfast table while salad dressing must be no more than a "drizzle" if school meals are to meet the healthy eating test from now on.

Chips are still allowed but no more than once a week. However, ice cream, butter and cream are off the menu.

Nutritionists hope the shake-up of school meals announced yesterday will get top marks from the 240,000 pupils in over 1,000 mainly disadvantaged schools who will be served up the healthy fare for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinners.

The new guidelines for the €50m School Meals programme make it clear that crisps, chocolate, cake and biscuits are banned and will not be paid for.

Health Minister Simon Harris, Education Minister Richard Bruton and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, who launched the meals plan, said while obesity rates are levelling off among seven-year-olds, this positive trend is not seen in children from poorer backgrounds.

Mr Harris said: "I know that this simple measure will have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of many children and their families across Ireland."

Mr Bruton said it would boost learning skills.

All schools which provide food to children are urged to adopt the updated nutrition guide. A typical breakfast could include a bowl of low-sugar, high-fibre wholemeal or wholegrain breakfast cereal or bread. This could be accompanied by fruit or a glass of milk, or yogurt or cheese.

Breakfast cereal bars cannot be served as a substitute for a bowl of cereal. Cutting up fruit may make it easier to eat for younger children.

Portion control is important and a serving of cheese should be no more than the size of "two thumbs".

A snack should contain one serving of vegetables and fruit. Whole fruits such as apples, bananas and oranges are a better choice than fruit juice. Every lunch or after-school meal should have two servings of vegetables, salad or fruit.

Children should be given two thin slices of wholemeal bread and one serving of meat, poultry, eggs, beans, cheese or nuts.

Nearly all types of bread are allowed but white bread cannot be served more than twice a week.

Potatoes, pasta or rice are allowed but the traditional spud must be either boiled or steamed with no oil or butter added. Salt cannot be added to pasta or rice.

High fat sauces to garnish vegetables are out while the vegetables must be boiled or steamed in a small amount of water.

Red meat should be on the menu at least twice a week but not more than three times.

Sausages, chicken nuggets and rashers can still make an appearance on the dinner plate but once a week at a maximum.

Pizza may also make the grade but it has to have a wholemeal base with a topping of fruit and vegetables or a side salad.

The cheese topping must be low-fat and a child must be given no more than two thin slices.

The three ministers insisted that children will be won over by the junk-free dining experience.

Irish Independent

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