The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has expressed his concern at the overly bureaucratic 'Appetite4Life' scheme and its impact on the take-up of school dinners. during a Welsh Government debate.
Mr. Black raised the issue after he received complaints locally that the new method of ensuring children receive healthy food was reducing choice for pupils, was difficult to administer and was leading directly to more children opting out of school meals in favour of less healthy packed lunches.
The Appetite4Life scheme tries to promote healthy eating in schools by dictating how many calories a school lunch should contain. The guidelines are extremely restrictive, containing strictures such as no spread on bread, no more than 10ml of ketchup, no confectionery, etc. There are maximum or minimum levels for everything from non-milk extrinsic sugars to vitamin A.
"This makes it very difficult for local authorities to formulate a menu as the Saffron computer software makes the assumption that the child is having a school lunch 5 days a week and requires a balance across the 5 days whilst staying within the guidelines," said Mr. Black. "Also authorities have to constantly check with suppliers to ensure that the recipe for something they purchase hasn't changed."
"Appetite4Life dictates that an average school lunch should provide 30% of the total daily energy requirement or approx. 543 calories" said Mr Black. "However we cannot assume that children who are entitled to free school meals consume three meals a day. For some children, school lunch is the only meal they will get in a day. Some will be lucky enough to have a school lunch and school breakfast, 1 Weetabix with skimmed milk or a slice of toast, approximately 100 calories. So, where are the other 1,270 calories a day going to come from?
"It is concerning that across the 17 Local Authorities who responded to my survey, there has been a decrease of almost 2% in the take-up of school meals, despite the fact that the number of free school meals has gone up between 3 and 5%. It is no surprise that schools are experiencing problems with take-up of the scheme.
"Before Appetite4Life becomes compulsory, I hope the Welsh Government will look at its implementation. Healthy eating is an absolute must in schools. We have to make sure that local authorities and schools have the flexibility to get it right, make sure that children are being presented with a proper choice of a healthy meal and make sure that the over prescription that is currently inherent in 'Appetite4Life' is tackled. I would hope that these criticisms can be taken up and dealt with before this becomes a compulsory system."