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Hungry for Success - A Whole School Approach to School Meals in Scotland:


Hungry for Success


plate logoIntroduction
Our Vision and Principles
Positive School/Whole Child Ethos
Partnership Working
Pupil Consultation
Eliminating Stigma
Managing the Process
Influencing Choice
Incentives to Improve Uptake of School Lunches


4.1 We know from the literature review that we commissioned that there are various factors that influence whether children opt for school meals, whether or not they are entitled to free school meals. These are complex and include peer group pressure, quality and choice of food, long queues, overcrowded and unappealing dining rooms and separation from friends who bring packed lunches or buy lunch out of school. Our visits and research pointed to a growing dislike from Primary 6 onwards of the sometimes regimented, hurried, often anti-social and institutionalised nature of school dining facilities as a reason for low uptake. This seems to have more significance than stigma, although it undoubtedly has an influence.

4.2 The best practice observed was when the lunchtime break was set in the context of a whole school approach to health promotion. This was reinforced both within the curriculum and over breaks where there was partnership among pupils, staff, parents and the catering services. A happy child and teenager-friendly atmosphere, lack of queues, sociable seating arrangements and well presented healthy food choices led to a marked rise in meals uptake and a welcome increase in healthier choices.

4.3 It is also impossible to look at school meals in isolation. Scotland's well documented health problems and their primary causes - poverty, unemployment, poor housing and unhealthy lifestyles - impact on any efforts to dissuade pupils from fashionable fast food outlets in the vicinity of the school which are often places visited by families in non-school time.

4.4 The challenge is thus twofold. Firstly, to ensure that all pupils entitled to a free meal take up that entitlement. Secondly, to persuade as many pupils as possible who pay for meals to use the school facility. If this is achieved and the nutrient content of the meals on offer meets the new nutrient standards then the health potential of good school provision will be realised.

4.5 While we offer suggestions as to how to remove stigma, the more important suggestions relate to "popularising" a healthy school lunch. This section identifies certain principles that underpin our vision of a healthy future for Scotland's pupils. In order to make these principles a reality our report articulates a practical way forward.

Our Vision and Principles

4.6 Our vision is of a partnership between children/young people, school, family and the community in offering access to attractively presented food of an appropriate nutrient composition within schools and in developing a wider understanding of food, nutrition and healthy lifestyles which can inform children's choices and eating habits within and outwith school and throughout life. We believe that children/young people should not feel stigmatised at school meal times for any reason including:

  • awareness by other children of additional financial support required by families/carers for the school midday meal or breakfast or out-of- school clubs
  • as a result of dietary or accommodation requirements relating to religion, ethnicity or health
  • additional help that may be required in accessing or eating school meals by young people with disabilities.

4.7 We have identified a set of principles we feel are important to underpin our vision and enable it to be achieved. These are:

  • positive school/whole child ethos
  • partnership working
  • importance of pupil consultation
  • eliminating stigma
  • managing the process
  • incentives to improve uptake of school lunches
  • influencing choice.

4.8 However, we recognise that schools are as individual as the pupils within them and schools are at varying stages of development. What works in one area will not necessarily work in another. Therefore the principles offer a variety of ways for schools to achieve positive outcomes.

Principle 1: Positive School/Whole Child Ethos

4.9 It is clear from the evidence that the whole experience that young people assimilate in school is as important as the learning and teaching which occurs in the classroom. This impression was evident during our school visits. It is also identified in the health promoting school literature and in educational research relating to effective schools.

4.10 Health promotion in schools is viewed as any action that a school takes to improve or protect the health of students and all school users. Therefore health promotion focuses on the social dimension of the school and its community rather than simply having the individualistic focus of traditional health education (Young & Williams 1989). It is possible to distil four key elements underpinning effective schools (Weare 2000). These are:

  • supportive relationships
  • a high degree of participation by pupils and staff in the life of the school
  • the encouragement of autonomy in staff and pupils
  • clarity about rules, boundaries and expectations.

4.11 These qualities do not emerge by accident but are the product of good management and the creation of a positive ethos where everyone can contribute to the life of the school. The World Health Organisation recognises the importance of participation within the health promoting schools movement and places equity and democracy at the top of its list of underpinning principles. (Thessalonki conference 1997).

4.12 The importance of the health promoting school movement was emphasised in the Government White Paper Towards a Healthier Scotland which stated, "The Government recognises the concept of the Health Promoting School as important in ensuring not only that health education is integral to the curriculum, but also that the school ethos, policies, services and extra curricular activities foster mental, physical and social well being and healthy development." In addition, the World Health Organization (European Office) decreed that, "Every child and young person in Europe has the right and should have the opportunity to be educated in a health promoting school." (Thessalonki conference 1997)

4.13 To take this agenda forward, the Scottish Health Promoting Schools Unit was launched on 24 May 2002. This Unit was created in partnership between the Scottish Executive, Health Education Board for Scotland, Learning and Teaching Scotland and CoSLA and will facilitate and support the implementation of the health promoting school concept throughout Scotland. The Unit will also consider what needs to be put in place to allow formal recognition of health promoting school status.

4.14 In a health promoting school, a wide range of aspects relate to food provision. These include:

  • the contribution of the curriculum
  • breakfast clubs
  • school meals
  • the environment and management of the dining room
  • water provision
  • snacks provision
  • vending machines
  • school nutrition action group/school based involvement
  • alternative supplies of food close to the school.

4.15 The Health Education 5-14 National Guidelines encourage important development work on healthy eating in both the primary school and the early stages of secondary schools. The curriculum contribution is vital and there is evidence of increasing links in Scotland between curriculum initiatives in healthy eating and the provision of food in schools. This occurs in secondary schools mainly through home economics where young people develop knowledge and understanding of healthy eating, but also develop important skills in food handling and preparation. In addition other subjects such as biology and general science make an important contribution to understanding nutrition and aspects of food hygiene. Physical education provides young people with an understanding of the importance of rehydration and energy balance in the context of physical activity. In personal and social education, in social subjects and in religious and moral education, the important roles that food plays in different cultures are explored and discussed.

4.16 There is in fact evidence of good knowledge levels relating to healthy eating in schools suggesting that effective learning and teaching are taking place (Young).

4.17 Our school visits yielded some examples of links between learning and teaching in the classroom and food provision in the dining room. In some cases School Nutrition Action Groups had been the catalyst for this. There is considerable evidence that schools in Scotland fully recognise the importance of the school ethos and the active management of this within the life of the school. This is reflected in the development of the School Ethos Network and the Health Promoting Schools approach in Scotland.

4.18 Our vision identifies the importance of seeing children within the wider context of their lives. This includes an understanding of their prior experience within pre-school services, the role of families and culture and other services such as out of school, play, sport and holiday activities in developing their understanding of food and their eating habits. This, together with recognition of the full range of children's physical and emotional as well as educational needs constitutes a "whole child" approach which we strongly endorse.

Recommendation 5: All schools should review their current practice in establishing links between learning and teaching on healthy eating in the curriculum and food provision in the school.

Recommendation 6: The Scottish Health Promoting Schools Unit should take the recommendations of the Panel into consideration when developing standards for health promoting schools.

Principle 2: Partnership Working

4.19 Successful initiatives in schools and education authorities are sustained when all of the partners support the school and the school adopts a whole school approach towards healthy eating. A high profile approach is necessary for the successful introduction of any important school development and every member of staff needs to support the healthy eating initiative. This is especially true of the headteacher. In schools where the headteacher and the senior management team have fully supported healthy eating as an important aspect of the Health Promoting School, exciting and successful developments were seen to be working well. Dining rooms were supervised and orderly with effective and fair queuing systems for pupils and well presented and attractive healthy choices were on the menu. Pupils were consulted regularly about menus and choices and the initiative was supported by teaching staff in secondary curriculum areas such as home economics and personal and social education and by class teachers in primary schools.

4.20 A successful school partnership approach requires involvement of all teaching staff, support staff, catering staff, pupils and also benefits from input by external agencies such as health promotion workers, dietitians and school nurses. Such partnerships also engage the full support of the School Board, the Parent Teacher Association and parent groups, so that the whole school community can feel involved.

4.21 Schools may find it useful to set up School Nutrition Action Groups to promote a partnership approach. These are multi-disciplinary groups, involving pupil and catering representatives in addition to parents and school management. They are established within a school to tackle food-related education and health issues. Where schools have been successful in establishing such partnerships and projects have been well supported by the whole school community, they have seen a considerable increase in the uptake of school meals and pupils have become more aware of the importance that healthy food choices have on their health.

4.22 School Nutrition Action Groups have been set up in many schools, often bringing together representatives from pre-school provision, after school clubs, community and other local groups and parents to help place the promotion of healthier eating in schools and within the wider context.

4.23 School catering staff should be consulted so that they feel fully involved and supported from the outset. Catering suppliers and education authority officers involved in school meals supply must also be fully committed to the programme so that schools have strong support from their education authority.

Recommendation 7: Education authorities should promote partnership approaches and schools should develop mechanisms to deliver partnership working.

Principle 3: Pupil Consultation

4.24 If Scottish pupils are to support healthier school meals, it is vital that they are given opportunities to be involved in consultation on these changes from the outset. This is particularly important at secondary level where pupils have greater opportunities to opt out of school meals and go out of school. However, experience of both sectors shows that when pupils feel ownership of an initiative they will be much more supportive of it and wish to participate.

4.25 One problem with healthy eating initiatives in the past has been the difficulty of sustainability, but if pupils are actively involved by the headteacher in a whole school approach, then there is every chance of success. Consultation can be organised through a pupil council or a School Nutrition Action Group or similar group.

4.26 The headteacher should also ensure effective liaison with the catering supervisor so that there are clear lines of communication among school staff, pupils and catering staff. Some catering supervisors arrange for a suggestion box to be placed in the dining room so that pupils' ideas and suggestions can be canvassed. Pupils can comment on ideas for menu choices and types of sandwich fillings or types of fruit they would prefer.

4.27 There is no doubt that young people in primary and secondary schools have strong opinions about their food choices. It is sensible and tactically sound for schools to take account of these and to try to take on board suggestions where these are feasible and fit them into a healthy diet. Pupils are knowledgeable consumers and will contribute suggestions and ideas about the effective presentation and packaging of food for school meals. There is the added benefit that such activity provides excellent practical teaching opportunities for the curriculum.

4.28 There should also be an opportunity for pupils to comment on school meals and to have a recognised route for complaints or compliments about their meals. As young consumers they have a right to comment on meals and this needs to be managed by the school in order that pupils' opinions and views are both listened to and valued.

4.29 One very effective way of achieving this is through the use of questionnaires to audit pupils' views. This can be a good way to achieve pupil involvement as pupils can be organised to prepare and issue questionnaires. Views can be collated and should provide a valuable resource in assisting staff and pupils to suggest improvements.

4.30 Pupils may also have positive suggestions for the improvement of the ambience of their dining room through the provision of posters, music, better seating and tables and brighter décor. Such suggestions might become part of a school's development plan. They can provide pupils and staff with positive ideas for improving the popularity of dining rooms and provide schools with an excellent focus for sustaining healthy eating initiatives.

Recommendation 8: Schools should consult with pupils on a regular basis on provision of school meals.

Principle 4: Eliminating Stigma

4.31 As already discussed, the uptake of free school meals and the implication that it is the stigma attached to receiving a free meal which reduces the uptake are complex and confused areas. Scottish Executive school meal census day data for 2002 shows the uptake of free meals in primary schools running at 16.9% (entitlement 20.1%) nationally. This is reasonably good since there would be a variety of legitimate reasons on any given day as to why a pupil does not take up their entitlement - illness, trips, holidays, exclusion, family matters, dentist, doctor, etc. Take-up of free meals is considerably higher than take-up for school meals as a whole.

4.32 Equally in the secondary sector, where the uptake at 10.9% (entitlement 15.9%) is much poorer, it is in line proportionally with uptake in general, suggesting that for adolescents the lunchtime environment of the school dining room is often unpopular.

4.33 However, our work has suggested that pupils do not regard stigma as a major reason for not taking free school meals. Much more significant factors included quality and quantity of food, queues, teenage attitudes to the institutional nature of the dining experience etc. Despite often not being reported as a significant problem within the schools visited, we recognise the importance of improving dining room practices to minimise stigma. A school dining room designed and managed to meet the needs of all diners is a crucial prerequisite to eliminating stigma, increasing uptake, encouraging informed choices and improving the diet and health of Scotland's schoolchildren.

4.34 Local authorities should ensure that children on free school meals are not disadvantaged in terms of the value of their free school meal and that they have full access to the whole range of choice on the menu.

4.35 Of the schools in the eight authorities we visited, three had introduced an electronic card system in the secondary sector. All others used a ticket system in the secondary sector and all used tickets at the primary stage i.e. cash cafeteria with pupils entitled to free school meals being issued a ticket. Some authorities indicated that electronic cards were to be introduced in the near future. Where lunch tickets were used, they were issued to pupils in a variety of ways including:

  • parents signed and collected from headteacher (primary)
  • ticket issued by teacher after registration
  • ticket handed out in dining room by member of teaching staff or ancillary staff
  • ticket collected by pupil from school office
  • ticket handed out in dining room by senior pupils.

4.36 With a cash cafeteria system there is much more likelihood of pupils having free school meals being identified. The system for the issue of meal tickets can be contentious in the secondary sector especially where pupils are involved in the process. In primary schools this did not present itself as a problem across all the authorities visited. "But at secondary school, other children do know, they get these tickets and you can get bothered as you get older." (Storey and Chamberlin). We believe any child entitled to free school meals should be able to take them without any fear of stigmatization. There is no place in a fair and equal society for stigmatization of children because of their life circumstances.

Use of Card Systems

4.37 We came across two different types of cards used as part of the cashless catering system, namely swipe cards and smart cards. The former, which have a magnetic strip with an identification number, have a limited number of uses. They can include a photograph of the holder enabling the card to also be used as a form of identity. Smart cards are much more sophisticated. They are embedded with an integrated circuit chip, giving them the power to perform many different functions as well as a method of payment. These include use as a school registration card, to provide shopping discounts, for entry to leisure facilities, or to accumulate reward points. Smart cards also have the ability to store much more information than magnetic strip cards and can be tailored to suit the needs of individual authorities. This application can also sit alongside a number of other functions on a single, multi-purpose smart card, including the proposed Young Scot application. As smart cards are compatible with existing magnetic strip cards, they could be phased in as required.

4.38 Where swipe cards were in use, they were initially collected by all pupils from the school office and recorded. Pupils paying for meals topped up cards when necessary at validator machines that were located in convenient sites on school premises. Pupils entitled to free school meals also had the option of topping up their card with cash.

4.39 Some forms of electronic cards are already a way of life to many young people i.e. top up phone cards, making financial transactions etc. From our discussions it seems clear that pupils see use of cards as the way of the future. This is in line with our own thinking.

4.40 In the schools visited, the card system appeared to be an efficient, speedy system where large numbers of pupil transactions could be processed with relative ease. The schools where the pupils were served most effectively also had a good supply of till points, reducing length of queues and waiting time. In all schools visited, pupils mentioned the queuing lengths and time. The schools with the card system did not experience such criticism. The efficiency of the card system allows more pupils to take school lunch in a relatively short space of time. We noted that in one Glasgow secondary school the uptake of school meals increased by 25% with the introduction of swipe cards. In addition, when authorities introduced improvements to dining facilities such as increasing the number of till points and serveries, the uptake increased substantially.

4.41 The card system can offer benefits to parents, pupils, school, caterers and for health promotion. For example, parents can check that money given to pupils for school meals is being used for that purpose. In many schools parents can send in a cheque for the payment of credit on the card not only ensuring the money will be used for school lunch, but also preventing potential bullying as a consequence of children carrying large sums of money to school. The card system also enhances anonymity for pupils entitled to free school meals. A study (Clapham and Kynoch 2000) in a central Scotland secondary school found, following the introduction of a swipe card system, that uptake of free school meals increased by 50%. Due to not carrying money on a regular basis, pupils also report that the card prevents some forms of bullying. The school can also use the card for security and registration systems. More pupils may stay in school for lunch, ensuring the children remain in a safe environment. The card may provide the caterer with increased sales, and it removes the need for staff to handle cash in the dining room. The system can also provide detailed information for food management purposes. In health promotion for example, anonymous food purchasing data could be used within the school curriculum, or used to plan and evaluate health promotion programmes. The card could also be used to promote the purchase of certain foods by awarding points on cards, which can be exchanged later for prizes or other incentives.

4.42 The introduction of a smart card by local authorities will enable them to deliver a number of services, including payment for school meals, by means of the card. In May 2002 the Scottish Executive announced the allocation of 5.4m from the Modernising Government Fund to support a national initiative to improve services to young people, the 'Dialogue Youth' project. All 32 local authorities are now committed to this project, a major part of which will involve the introduction of a voluntary smart card for all young people aged 12-18 on a Scotland-wide basis. The Scottish Executive has also allocated a further 6m from the Modernising Government Fund to support the wider development of the standardised public sector smart card for other age groups, and on a Scotland wide basis. The priority application for smartcards will be educational, including school meals, and transport related.

Recommendation 9: Processes maximising anonymity for free meal recipients should be explored as a priority in all schools. Primary schools should review their ticket allocation practices to ensure anonymity for free school meals is maximised and education authorities should adopt early introduction of a school meal application for multiple-use cards, in particular in secondary schools.

Recommendation 10: As part of the introduction of card systems, education authorities should ensure there are sufficient validators in easily accessed areas within the school, not only in the dining room, and that they are easy to use.
Principle 5: Managing the Process

4.43 We have come to a view that the design and management of school meals can sometimes be more at the convenience of the provider rather than the consumer. We have concluded that what is required is an efficient and sensitive operation serving attractive meals to well informed and, where necessary, well supported consumers. We welcome the fact that implementation of Accessibility Strategies and the amended Disability Discrimination Act 1995 should support and improve access to dining halls and other parts of the school.


4.44 A key factor that puts many pupils, or any consumer for that matter, off even the most positive dining experience, is not being given enough time. As previously indicated, our visits and research revealed a growing dislike from Primary 6 onwards of the sometimes regimented and hurried nature of school meals provision.

4.45 The inadequate size and multiple use of much of the country's school dining facilities is an issue, but in many circumstances the pressure to "eat up and shut up" comes from decisions to shorten lunch hours. However there is also the "catch 22" situation for those whose successful efforts to improve uptake has resulted in even greater pressure on a limited capacity.


4.46 A factor related to the time available to eat food is the time that is spent queuing for it. Many pupils felt that they would not have to queue so long at outside outlets. Some schools have tried to overcome the queuing issue by offering a pre-ordering service for sandwich meals, which can then just be collected at lunchtime. In Angus, a pilot study was underway in some primary schools where the pupils were issued with a colour-coded card for their pre-ordered lunch. Others have adopted the practice of organising rotas whereby different years take it in turn to go for lunch first so that all pupils do not arrive in the dining room at the same time. While we found some very efficient local practice, queuing was recognised as a key factor in improving the school meal experience. A lack of choice for those at the end of queues was also commented on. We felt that a number of positive approaches we encountered could assist in ensuring the time available was optimised.

Recommendation 11: All schools should examine their seating and queuing arrangements to ensure that the social experience of school meals is maximised.

Recommendation 12: To address queuing difficulties and in any review of the length of the lunch break, the following factors should be considered:

  • multiple service points
  • more cash points in cash cafeterias
  • staggered arrivals of diners/separate sittings
  • pre-ordering facility
  • separate counter for collecting pre-ordered meals
  • delivery of pre-ordered meals to lunchtime clubs
  • examining the potential for additional outlets elsewhere in the school
  • the needs of disabled pupils.

Recommendation 13: When education authorities and schools are examining the structure of the school day, the lunchtime experience should be part of that consideration.


4.47 Awareness of the importance of basic food hygiene is an aspect of health promotion in schools that might usefully be embraced in the context of school lunch. The Report of the Task Force on
E. coli
O157 emphasised the need to promote personal hygiene and in particular handwashing. The Scottish Executive and the Food Standards Agency are working with the Health Education Board for Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive to prepare appropriate promotional material. In addition, the Food Standards Agency Food Hygiene Campaign will cover this issue. Handwashing is one of the four key messages in the campaign, which targets the catering sector and the general public. Schools should be aware of these issues and the arrangements for managing the school lunch break should ensure, particularly for primary school children, that appropriate arrangements are in place to promote routine handwashing prior to the meal.

Minority Ethnic Communities and Special Religious Dietary Requirements

4.48 "Traditional foods and eating patterns of black and ethnic minority communities are part of the reality of the multiethnic and multicultural nature of British society today. Food is one of the most noticeable aspects of an individual's cultural identity and is closely linked with religious, social and economic circumstances. All over the world, societies have developed traditional eating patterns over centuries. They are based on foods available locally and influenced by cultural and religious beliefs. To produce a detailed and accurate profile of the food habits of each ethnic group in Britain is a very lengthy process and even then it would be unlikely to include all groups and variations within and between them." (Hill 1994). This statement is equally true for other faith communities.

4.49 What is required is an ongoing development of knowledge and awareness around the needs of pupils from minority ethnic and religious communities. One important way to achieve this is through the partnership approaches previously discussed. Schools and caterers need to have access to suitable information, support and resources to ensure these needs are met in a sensitive, informed and appropriate manner.


4.50 We were impressed by schools where there were supportive supervision arrangements. Primary schools in particular often had supervisory staff promoting healthy choices and encouraging consumption. Catering staff also regularly played a vital role in encouraging positive choices as well as monitoring the choices of those with food allergies.

4.51 We felt supervision merited major investment and matched the objectives outlined by A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century about the use of non-teaching staff for non-teaching activities. At the same time as recognising the need to take a burden off teachers, we also observed the practical and symbolic benefit that came from the presence in the dining room of school staff and senior management. We recognise, however, that senior management teams can vary enormously in size from a large secondary to a small primary.

Recommendation 14: In line with the agreement set out in A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century, education authorities should consider deploying classroom assistants and dining room assistants to undertake a supervisory role in dining rooms.

Recommendation 15: Senior management within schools should strongly support and endorse their school meal provision as part of the whole-child approach.

Principle 6: Influencing Choice

4.52 To enable children to develop a wider understanding of food, nutrition and healthy lifestyles, and therefore make more informed choices about their eating habits, they need guidance on a number of fronts. A whole school approach is a good basis to ensuring this happens. During our visits we saw varied examples of practice in terms of:

  • presentation of food
  • labelling
  • pricing
  • effective marketing.

Presentation of Food

4.53 How food is presented is critical to uptake. Well-presented dishes will always sell better than those that are poorly garnished and displayed. Irrespective of whether a particular dish is a healthier choice, if it looks unattractive, children are unlikely to choose it. Counter position is an important factor influencing children's choices. Healthier options should be placed first in the servery, at the front and beside the till point. Where meals were of good quality and the food was well presented, the uptake of meals was generally high.


4.54 Labelling is not just about influencing choice. For some pupils, such as vegetarians or those with a medical condition, it can also help identify whether certain foods are appropriate to select. In smaller schools, catering and/or teaching staff may be aware of the special dietary requirements of their pupils, but this is not universal, especially in large secondary schools. Discussions with secondary pupils and parents showed that many parents would like more information about the nutritional value of meals on offer at lunchtime. The introduction of nutrient standards will reassure parents of the quality of meals being served. The introduction of labelling would, however, also be welcomed.

4.55 The extent to which foods are labelled may be affected by the type of food, by the packaging of the food and by the style of counter on which the food is displayed. We acknowledge that it may be difficult to label foods displayed on a hot counter where space is limited. We also acknowledge that the time taken to read the information on labels might increase queuing times, especially in primary schools. However, there are several ways this can be addressed including use of:

  • informative menu boards in dining room
  • heat-protected "tent" cards in front of products on hot serveries
  • colour coding for packaged foods
  • a pre-ordering service.


4.56 Additional costs resulting from implementation of the nutrient standards and increased portion sizes should not be passed on as price increases to the pupils as consumers. This will be monitored as part of the monitoring process. Prices vary between authorities and between schools. Some primary schools charge a set price for school meals, whereas the charge others make is dependent upon the food chosen by the pupil. With the latter, taking time to add up prices can increase queuing times.

4.57 It is for local authorities to determine pricing tariffs and the value of the free school meal. Free school meals should enable pupils entitled to them to have full access to the whole range of choice on the menu and should be of sufficient value to provide at least two courses including any main course.

4.58 All authorities should employ pricing incentives to encourage healthier eating. Obviously there are budget constraints within which the catering contractor has to operate. However, price sensitivity among pupils is extremely high and this can be the most effective way of encouraging healthier eating.

Effective Marketing

4.59 All marketing activity should be geared towards encouraging healthy choices. There should be no active marketing of high fat and high sugar products such as confectionery and crisps. Examples of good practice include:

  • classroom activities relating to healthy eating and complementing menus and choices available in the dining room
  • classroom learning about particular foods with free samples
  • competitions and leaflets that educate while also providing a fun activity
  • use of health promotions such as tasting sessions
  • healthy option incentives/reward systems - considered in further detail below
  • promotional posters to identify food groups in dining room and classroom
  • provision of information for parents on nutrient standards
  • availability of forward menus for pupils to take home.

4.60 We feel it is important to make menus available to parents to inform them of the choices available. This would not only help to reassure parents who have concerns about what is being offered, but allow them to discuss their children's diet and what their child should eat at school. We saw good practice where catering managers attend parents' evenings to talk to parents and display examples of foods served to pupils.

Recommendation 16: Caterers should consider appropriate means of labelling food and methods of conveying information on content to pupils and parents. Through existing school communication channels, menus should be forwarded to parents at least once a term. Schools and caterers should consider presentation, marketing and pricing structures to incentivise healthier choices.

Principle 7: Incentives to Improve Uptake of School Lunches

4.61 Improvement in nutrient standards of meals will only lead to improvement in children's eating habits and health if there is increased uptake of the meals. It is important that, not only are the pupils encouraged into the dining room, but also that they are encouraged to make nutritionally "healthy choices". One way to encourage this is through the use of incentives.

4.62 From research and in the course of our visits, we saw much good and innovative practice in relation to incentives, which we feel could be shared across Scotland.

Incentives to Encourage Uptake

4.63 Incentives to influence uptake have to impact on parents and children. The message that the school meal is valued and is worth staying in school for comes initially from home. Parents have to feel comfortable that the pupils will receive value for money and will be served with a meal of an appropriate nutrient composition. As has already been discussed, this can come from menus being available to parents on a regular basis, by providing information about the school meals service to parents when children start school, or by consulting with and keeping Parent Teacher Associations or School Board representatives fully informed of school meals provision.

4.64 While parents may want their children to stay in school for meals, the pupils themselves make the ultimate decision as to what they will eat and even whether they will stay in school at all, particularly when they reach secondary school age. Peer pressure was found to be a significant issue in determining where pupils will eat. However, pupils can be encouraged to eat as a group in the dining room rather than go elsewhere.

4.65 Pupils themselves identified one of the greatest influences to be the atmosphere and ambience of the dining room. Where facilities had been upgraded, pupils felt more positive about their dining environment. Improvements did not always need to be sophisticated or expensive to make a difference to how pupils felt about the dining room. Colourful canopies over serveries, bright, colourful furniture of different sizes, cheerful posters on the wall and bright uniforms for catering staff all made a difference.

4.66 The design of dining rooms in new build schools is an important consideration for local authorities, especially where such accommodation is to have a multi-function use. We fully recognise that it may be easier to improve the environment in dedicated dining rooms. However, innovative practice such as removable decorative features, bright stow-away picnic-style tables and benches and even equipping several smaller areas for eating in addition to the main dining facility have been introduced in some schools.

4.67 Social aspects of lunchtime are also important to pupils and can be developed to encourage pupils to stay in school to eat. Pupils want to be able to sit with their friends, even if their friends take packed lunches. The level of noise in the dining room is an issue in some schools, particularly in secondary schools where there is far more pressure on the space available. In some schools, background music is played in the dining room either during or following the meal service. Pupils were sometimes consulted on the music to be played,

Recommendation 17: Improvements to the dining room to enhance its atmosphere and ambience, and encourage its use as a social area should be considered as a priority by local authorities and should be taken into account in their wider school estate planning. It is desirable, wherever possible, that a separate dining area should be provided.

Recommendation 18: Furniture design, layout and usage, along with other factors such as décor and background music, should be considered by all schools, with significant pupil input and programmes for change drawn up.

Incentives for Making Healthy Choices

4.68 Several schools across Scotland have introduced incentives to promote healthy eating. These can range from price incentives such as "meal deals" or provision of free vegetables or salad with a main course, visibility and presentation of the healthy options and unavailability of confectionery or vending machines at lunchtime to schemes offering rewards for consistent healthy eaters.

4.69 Organised incentive schemes do not seem to be widely prevalent, but are used in some education authority areas to try to encourage better eating. They work mainly by pupils building up points on their swipe/smart cards when they choose healthy options. The points are then either exchanged for rewards, or the top healthy eaters in the school are awarded a prize at the end of each term. In schools where swipe cards are not used, scratch cards, which give a chance of winning prizes, are given with healthy choices. Rewards vary among education authority areas and range from healthy products to free passes to local swimming pools or sports centres or even tickets for major concerts.

4.70 Incentives for healthy eaters in primary schools are much simpler. Some areas award stickers daily to pupils who make healthy choices and then give rewards for collecting a certain number of these. Where reward prizes are available, these are on a much smaller scale than in secondary schools.

4.71 We view the use of these incentives as acceptable, as long as the prizes are of an appropriate nature, such as for swimming pools, sports facilities or films/concerts. These can provide a link between diet and exercise and can support and emphasise the importance of the holistic approach underlying health promoting schools.

Recommendation 19: Education authorities should consider the introduction of incentive schemes to promote healthier choices and increase the take-up of school meals.

Incentive Schemes for Catering Staff

4.72 Catering staff also have a vital influencing role in encouraging uptake of meals and choices made. Pupils spoke highly of cheerful staff who showed concern for them.

4.73 Offering incentives to catering staff is one way of recognising their role in encouraging the promotion of healthy eating. One of the education authorities visited had introduced a scheme to award gold stars for increasing uptake of school meals. Award of a certain number of stars leads to prizes such as cookery books and kitchen equipment. Prizes are also offered for individuals' innovative ideas to improve the service and uptake of meals. Catering staff appeared to appreciate these initiatives, helping them to develop a sense of ownership of the service, and they were becoming keen to hear of the latest developments.

Recommendation 20: Education authorities should consider the introduction of staff incentive schemes to recognise innovation and celebrate success.