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 new 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. They also emphasise that milk and water are the best drinks to serve children.

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 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. They 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.