Healthy eating in schools: guidance 2020

Statutory guidance supporting the implementation of the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020.

Section 1: Introduction

Why is improving the nutritional quality of school food important?

A good diet is essential for good health and it is important that children (defined in this guidance as primary school age) and young people (defined in this guidance as secondary school age) are provided with a solid foundation for establishing healthy life-long eating habits. Although schools alone cannot be expected to address poor eating habits, schools can make a valuable contribution to improving the nutritional quality of diets and promoting consistent messages about healthy eating within a health promoting schools environment.

The Scottish Government wants to improve the diet of children and young people in Scotland building on the solid work that is already being done in schools to encourage balanced and nutritious food and drink choices across the school day. We recognise that the diets of many children and young people in Scotland fall short of national dietary recommendations and many are consuming inadequate amounts of fruit and vegetables and eating too much saturated fat, salt and sugar.[1] [2]

Children and young people need the right balance of food and nutrients to develop and grow. A good diet is about getting that balance right in order to provide enough of the important nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals and protein) and fibre without too much fat (especially saturated fat), sugar and salt.

The Eatwell guide below shows the types and proportions of foods needed to make up a well-balanced, healthy diet.

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Imbalances in diet can contribute to a number of serious diet-related conditions over the course of a lifetime. Improvements to the diet of children and young people can positively influence their current and future health.

Childhood obesity remains a widely recognised challenge and can affect many aspects of children and young people's lives including their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Obesity may continue into adulthood and lead to a number of serious health conditions including some types of cancers, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.

There persists in Scotland unacceptable diet-related health inequalities. For example, children in primary 1 living in the most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to be at risk of obesity than those living in the least deprived areas, which is why nutritional quality of school food is so important.[3]

A balanced and nutritious diet is also important to support dental health as frequent consumption of sugary foods can contribute to higher levels of tooth decay. Dental health among children in Scotland has been improving in recent years with 80% of children in primary 7 showing no obvious signs of dental decay in 2019 compared to 53% in 2005.[4] However, there are still notable differences between Scotland's most deprived and least deprived areas.

What is the purpose of this guidance?

All education authorities and managers of grant-aided schools are required to comply with the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations).[5] They are also under a duty within the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000 (the 2000 Act) to ensure that schools are health promoting.[6]

This guidance is intended to help those who are involved in providing food and drinks in schools to implement the Regulations. It explains the nutritional requirements in the Regulations and provides guidance on how to comply with them. The guidance also makes recommendations on other practical aspects not covered by those Regulations and helps to support the achievement of the health promotion duty.

Food and drink provision in schools in Scotland has undergone significant transformation since the introduction of the Hungry for Success[7] initiative in 2003 and the introduction of statutory school food and drink standards in primary school in 2008 and secondary schools in 2009 under the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008[8] (the 2008 Regulations).

Since then the scientific evidence and dietary advice on which they were based has changed. To ensure that the food and drink provided across the day continues to support the health and development of our children and young people, the school food and drink standards have been updated to better align with the dietary recommendations set out in the Scottish Dietary Goals[9] therefore this guidance has been drafted to support implementation of those updated standards.

Who is responsible for ensuring the Regulations are complied with?

Education authorities and managers of grant-aided schools are ultimately responsible for ensuring that all food and drink provided in their schools comply fully with the Regulations. However, everyone involved with providing food and drink on school premises can play a part in supporting compliance by making themselves aware of the requirements set out in the Regulations.

When do the Regulations apply?

The Regulations are broken down into food and drink standards and nutrient standards.

The food and drink standards apply to all food and drink provided to children and young people at any time of the day and define the types of food and drinks that must, can or cannot be offered including but not limited to:

  • lunchtime
  • the secondary school hostel evening meal
  • breakfast clubs
  • tuckshops
  • vending machines
  • mid-morning services
  • community cafés serving children and young people during the school day
  • before/after school clubs and nurture clubs

The nutrient standards apply only to primary school lunch, secondary school analysed lunch and secondary school hostel evening meal. They set out the amount of nutrients that children and young people should receive from these meals.

Who should use this guidance?

The Regulations apply to all food and drink provided to children and young people across the school day. Education authorities and managers of grant-aided schools must have regard to this guidance. This guidance should also be considered by anyone responsible for providing any kind of food and drink on education authority or grant-aided school premises and in school hostels, including:

  • Head teachers and other school staff involved with food and drink in schools - for example breakfast clubs, tuckshops or after school clubs.
  • Head teachers, other school staff or catering staff who are responsible for managing arrangements where food and drink is provided during the school day on school premises by private providers, for example breakfast clubs.
  • Catering staff providing lunches, evening meals and other food and drink, for example mid-morning break, in primary schools, secondary schools and school hostels.
  • Teachers and other school staff supporting food and drink-related social enterprises.
  • Community cafés which are part of the school campus and serve children and young people during the school day.
  • Anyone providing food and drink on school premises as part of a school holiday club.
  • Any other person who is involved in the provision of food and drinks in schools or on school premises, including voluntary and private organisations. For example parent councils, charity organisations or private providers running breakfast clubs, after school clubs or fund raising events.

The guidance may also be of interest to:

  • School staff who are developing school guidance or policies within the context of a health promoting school for example snacks or other food and drink being brought onto school premises by children or young people.
  • Teachers and support staff who want to know more about the provision and promotion of healthy food and drinks in schools for example to support delivery of the health and wellbeing experiences and outcomes in Curriculum for Excellence.
  • Health professionals who provide advice and support to schools in relation to health promotion, nutrition and oral health.
  • Those with responsibility for provision of food and drink as part of school holiday clubs which are not run on school premises.
  • Children and young people, parents/carers and parent councils who are interested in learning more about the nutritional standards for schools.
  • Independent school managers, teachers and caterers.
  • Other providers of residential care services for children and young people.
  • Food and drink manufacturers, suppliers, producers and others involved in the provision of food and drink to schools.

How does this guidance support children and young people to make appropriate dietary choices and learn about health and wellbeing?

This guidance uses evidence-based information to complement the learning children and young people receive about Health and Wellbeing through Curriculum for Excellence.[10]

In particular, the food and health experiences and outcomes within Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) aim to provide children and young people with the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to make balanced food and drink choices aligned to current dietary advice. The Regulations can complement this by illustrating what balanced and nutritious food and drink can look like over the course of a week.

CfE also emphasises that health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all staff who work in schools and should permeate all aspects of the school day.

Better Eating, Better Learning[11] - a new context for school food further supports this aim by demonstrating how joint working can drive further improvements to both food provision and food education.

Together, the Regulations, CfE and Better Eating Better Learning can help all those involved in school food provision and food education to do so in a coordinated way, providing consistent messages to our children and young people.

Self-evaluation framework

A self-evaluation framework has been developed by Education Scotland to support improvement in relation to food in schools in Scotland.


There are circumstances in which the Regulations do not apply, however, when deciding to apply these exemptions, consideration should be given to the ethos of the health promoting school as set out in the 2000 Act.

The Regulations do not apply to:

Food or drink brought on to school premises by parents or children and young people.

Allergy policies must be followed to ensure the safety of all children, young people and staff in the school.

It is also important to remember that the 2000 Act requires schools to be health promoting so this guidance may help when setting policies addressing food and drink brought into schools for example birthday cakes, packed lunches or food bought by a child or young person from a shop. This is particularly important where food from outside vendors does not reflect the ethos of a health promoting school.

Food and drink provided in schools for people who are not children or young people e.g. staff.

The health promoting schools duty under the 2000 Act should be considered here in relation to consistent messaging and role modelling demonstrated by teachers and other school staff. For example items such as confectionery, intended for staff members but on display in areas accessible to children and young people.

If food and drink is provided for more than one reason (for example a school canteen which doubles as a community café), the food and drink provided to children and young people must still meet the nutritional requirements set by the Regulations.

Food and drink used in teaching food preparation and cookery skills, provided that any food so prepared is not served to children and young people as part of a school meal.

Food and drink chosen for such activities should reflect, as far as possible, the health promoting schools duty.

Food and drink provided as part of a medically prescribed diet for any child or young person.

Food and drink provided in nurseries and early years centres.

Separate guidance, Setting the Table, is available for the early years sector. That guidance is aimed at all early education and childcare settings which provide food for children between 0 and 5 years.

Food or drink provided as part of a social, cultural or recreational activity.

For example school discos, sports days or cultural events such as school-organised Burns suppers or Christmas lunches.

Advice on applying the social, cultural or recreational events exemption

Social, cultural or recreational events should reflect the whole school health promoting ethos by encouraging and promoting healthier food and drink choices.

Creating policies together with partners will provide clarity on expectations in relation to the Regulations and any exemptions.

Throughout a school year there may be many events and activities which would be exempt and could potentially significantly increase the amount of sugar, fat and salt consumed by children and young people. Good practice would be for all those planning such events and activities involving food and drink to take coordinated approach to managing their frequency across the school year to deliver a balanced approach.

For example:

  • Develop a calendar to plan and monitor the frequency of food-related events and activities.
  • Try to offer a range of food and drinks at events to avoid reliance on high fat, sugar and/or salt items.
  • Consider celebrating events using non-food items such as Fairtrade/Traidcraft toiletries or sports balls instead of Fairtrade confectionery.

Advice on allergies

All education authorities and schools should have policies in place to safely support children, young people and staff with food allergies. These polices should be carefully referred to before permitting food and drink to be brought into schools under one of the above exemptions, for example a charity bake sale or food and drink brought into school as part of a packed lunch.

Advice on celebrations and rewards

Food and drink brought into school to celebrate birthdays or similar events such as personal achievements are not covered by the Regulations but as this kind of event may occur frequently in some schools, we recommend that authorities and schools develop policies on this in line with the ethos of a health promoting schools.

Similarly, consideration should also be given to rewards for achievements in class or wider school recognition so that items chosen do not contradict the ethos of a health promoting school for example sweets given as a reward for a class project would not be appropriate.

Non prescribed dietary choices

Dietary choices that are not prescribed by a medical professional are not exempt under the Regulations. Where children and young people or their parents/carers request meals that take account of a particular dietary choice, local authorities should make reasonable adjustments to accommodate that request but continue to comply with the nutrient standard in the Regulations. Further advice can be found in Section 5 under 'reasonable adjustments'.



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