Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been battling to overhaul the unhealthy lunchtime menus on offer in schools since 2005, but he has recently voiced concerns that his school dinner project is now “at risk.”
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, he said changes made under the coalition government in England have put the regulations that were imposed as a result of the Jamie’s School Dinners television series were in jeopardy.
His comments come after the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has excused academies from adhering to set nutritional standards that other state schools are subjected to.
The school lunch grant, which provides schools with extra funding to buy healthy ingredients and equipment while allowing them to keep the price of student lunches down, has also been abolished.
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Jamie Oliver told the Guardian: “Honestly, I'm very worried. I've had a couple of very cordial, interesting meetings with the Secretary of State for Education and although I would love to believe that Mr Gove has school food high on his agenda, I've not heard anything so far worth celebrating.
“I'm sure he realises that there are clear benefits to having good food in school: it improves a child's behaviour, willingness to learn and concentration at school, and that in turn helps children to achieve more and perform better,” Oliver said.
He added: “You would have to be an idiot to ignore all of the academic research that's been published to support these things, but still I don't see him or his ministerial colleagues in health actually doing anything to ensure that the improvements we have made over the last six years remain in place and are built upon – instead the progress we've made seems to be at risk.”
Oliver stressed that considering obesity is already estimated to cost the NHS in the UK £4 billion a year, heavy investment needs to be made to tackle the growing problem.
He has urged ministers to extend the nutritional regulations of school dinners to include academies and has also pitched the idea of a school food premium, in which schools would be financially rewarded for promoting healthy school dinners and increasing the number of children eating them.
It is currently estimated that in England alone, three million pupils at primary secondary schools have school dinners on a daily basis out of a possible seven million.
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