School caterers in Scotland are gearing up for new school food regulations which come into effect this autumn.

The new legislation will see more fruit and vegetables but less processed red meat and a significant reduction in the amount of sugar available throughout the school day.  Scotland is the first part of the UK to set maximum limits for consumption of red processed meat over the course of the school week, which will also reduce exposure to harmful nitrites. The change strengthens the Scottish Government and Local Government efforts to improve diet, halve childhood obesity by 2030 and strengthen children and young people’s healthy eating habits.

The measures follow extensive consultation and advice from a working group comprising health, nutrition and education experts. Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Our school food and drink regulations are now over a decade old. With more than 360,000 meals served a day, schools must follow the latest scientific and dietary advice and encourage young people to choose healthy habits for life.

“Every school lunch will now contain more fruit and vegetables, and where food is served elsewhere in school full portions of fruit and vegetables must be on offer. “We have set maximum limits for consumption of red processed meat which is linked to an increased risk of cancer. This will also reduce exposure to harmful nitrites. “And we know that one small carton of fruit juice or smoothie contains more than the entire recommended sugar intake for a primary pupil’s lunch, so these drinks will no longer be served in schools. “These changes will improve our school food, help tackle childhood obesity and give our children the best start in life.” Claire Hislop, organisational lead for diet and healthy weight at NHS Health Scotland and a member of the technical working group which reviewed the current regulations, said: “We know that health in Scotland is improving, but not for everyone. Supporting children and young people at school is an important way of addressing these inequalities. Together with a range of other actions to help support a healthy diet, this new guidance will contribute to improving health and reducing health inequalities in Scotland.”

However, the British Soft Drinks Association  is concerned that the proposal to ban fruit and vegetable juice and combination drinks is not evidence based given the low levels of fruit and vegetable intake by Scottish children, and has called on the government to revisit its proposal. A spokesperson said: “One of the priorities in this review is to increase the fruit and vegetable intake of children. Including 150ml of fruit or vegetable juice a day would make a positive and convenient contribution towards this aim. This portion size equates to only 62kcal, or around 3% of daily energy based on a 2,000 kcal diet.

“In addition, 150ml glass of pure orange juice delivers 60% of the daily vitamin C recommended intake as well as other important micro nutrients such as folate and potassium.”

• A minimum of two full portions of vegetables and a full portion of fruit are offered as part of a school lunch, with full portions of fruit and or vegetables also available in, for example, tuck shops
• A maximum amount of red and processed red meat provision – such as bacon, ham and pepperoni – in school lunches to help reduce exposure to nitrites
• Removal of fruit juice and smoothies from primary and secondary schools to help reduce sugar intake