Food provision

Providing healthier choices within school can be achieved through breakfast clubs, healthy tuck shops, school meals and packed lunches.

Government direction and food and drink provision

Providing healthier choices within school can be achieved through breakfast clubs, healthy tuck shops, school meals and packed lunches. There are standards in place throughout the UK which are based on both the types of food and drinks that pupils should be offered at school (food-based) and the proportion of nutrients that pupils should be provided by food provided at school (nutrient-based).

Whilst standards differ throughout the UK, they all seek to improve school food provision within schools. They also include standards for healthier drinks; ensuring that free fresh drinking water is provided at all times, and restricting drinks that should be consumed less frequently, for example by limiting serving size and added sugars. Policy in the UK also states that crisps, chocolate or sweets cannot be offered within school meals or vending machines. Whilst these standards are mandatory for most schools and academies throughout the school day, they do not apply to packed lunches brought into schools by pupils. Children whose parents receive certain welfare payments are eligible for free school meals in the UK. There are also additional separate provisions in the four nations for eligibility to free school meals.

Breakdown of School Food Policy in the UK


School meal regulations

School Food Standards were launched by the Department for Education as part of the School Food Plan. From January 2015, these standards became mandatory for food provided throughout the school day, including breakfast clubs, tuck shops, after school clubs and vending machines, in all maintained schools, free schools, and academies founded before 2010 and after 2014. Academies founded in between this period are encouraged to sign up to the standards voluntarily. The School Food Standards set requirements for all food and drink provided in schools. They aim to make sure food provided to pupils is nutritious and of high quality. Compliance with the School Food Standards is a legal requirement for the majority of schools, academies and free schools, including all maintained schools. Those schools for which it is not mandatory are expected to comply voluntarily. For further information on the school food plan, see resources below.

Although it is the responsibility of the governing body to ensure that the school meets its statutory obligations from September 2015, under a new Common Inspection Framework, Ofsted inspections will make judgement on healthy eating throughout the school, in classrooms through learning, as well as in the provision of school food.

Since September 2014, legislation states all pupils in reception, year 1 and year 2 in state-funded schools in England must be offered a free school meal under the Universal Infant Free School Meal scheme. For more information, visit:

School Food Plan documents

The following documents were originally on the School Food Plan website (closing end of March 20190) and have been reproduced and provided under the Open Government Licence. Terms can be found at:

The school food standards

The school food standards - A practical guide for schools their cooks and cat...

Headteacher Checklist

A checklist for headteachers about creating a healthy whole school environment.

School food guidance for governors

An information sheet looking at School food guidance for governors.

Checklist For School Lunches

A checklist looking at healthier choices for lunch at school.

Checklist for school food other than lunch

A checklist looking at healthier choices for school food other than lunch.

Creating a culture and ethos of healthy eating

An information sheet looking at ways to create a whole school culture and eth...

The link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainment

A document looking at the link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainm...

Portion sizes

A resource looking at portion size for primary and secondary pupils.

Childhood obesity plan

In 2016, the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan outlined a number of policies to help create a more supportive environment for young people to make healthier choices. These included the soft drinks industry levy (which began in April 2018) and the Sugar Reduction Strategy, to reduce the sugar content of products contributing most sugar to children’s diets by 20% by 2020 (launched in 2017). The release of chapter 2 of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan included the pledge to update to the School Food Standards to have a larger focus on reducing sugar consumption. Public Health England also plans to introduce a healthy rating scheme for schools, to ensure that schools have a framework for self-evaluation for promoting healthy eating (and physical activity) during the school day. It will also be investing in schemes to increase physical activity such as the Walk to School project.

There has been the introduction of universal infant free school meals, the introduction of cooking and nutrition on the curriculum for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 and mandatory school food standards (discussed earlier). The Government also delivers the Healthy Food Schemes - Healthy Start, School Fruit and Vegetable and the Nursery Milk schemes.

Northern Ireland

The nutritional standards for school lunches 2007 Healthy Food for Healthy Outcomes, and the Nutritional standards for other food and drink in schools 2008 remain up to date. The nutritional standards for school lunches and nutritional standards for other food and drinks in school are currently being revised and it is hoped that this will be approved and implemented within 2019.

The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) previously monitored compliance to the nutritional standards, however due to a lack of funding, this is no longer the case. Compliance is therefore monitored, with the Education Authority, via catering supervisors, catering managers, and ultimately the Regional Food in Schools Coordinator. The Regional Food in Schools Coordinator acts as an expert advisor to the Department of Education on school food and nutrition.

Breakfast clubs in Northern Ireland are covered by the nutritional standards for other food and drinks in schools. The extended schools programme is a route for funding for schools to deliver a breakfast club, however criteria is strict and funding is limited. Many schools may manage and deliver their own breakfast club without this funding.

Guidance on the provision of healthy breakfast clubs can be found here -

Additionally, Food schools policy is finalising guidance on the management and provision of special diets within schools, which again hoped to be implemented in 2019. 


Building on Hungry for Success (2003), the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act (2007) sets out the Nutrition Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations (2008). These regulations cover all food and drinks provided during the school day, including breakfast clubs, tuck shops, vending machines and after school clubs, in local-authority and grant aided schools in Scotland. The regulations for school lunches are comprised both of Nutrient Standards and Food and Drink Standards. Education Scotland (formerly HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE)) includes the monitoring of compliance with the Regulations as part of school inspections. For further information, visit:

School inspections also gather evidence of food provision and the use of food as a context for learning in order to provide assurance that a school is promoting health effectively. This contributes to the inspection team’s collective view of wellbeing. For more information, visit:

There is an ongoing review of current school food and drink Regulations. Proposed amendments will take the nutritional requirements into closer alignment with the Scottish Dietary Goals, using the most up-to-date scientific evidence base and knowledge of current school food practices. Specifically this focuses on increasing access to fruit and vegetables, reducing sugar content and setting a maximum for red and red processed meat. Further information can be found here

For further information on Health and Nutrition Inspections, visit Education Scotland’s website


The Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards and Requirements) (Wales) Regulations (2013) outlines food and drinks suitable to be provided in maintained schools. This also covers foods provided as part of the Free Breakfast in Primary Schools scheme. For further information visit:

Governing bodies are required to provide information regarding their actions taken to promote healthy eating and drinking to pupils in their annual reports. Estyn, the education and training inspectorate in Wales, then reports the actions taken by schools to the Welsh Ministers.

Wales also has the highest proportion of schools running breakfast clubs in the UK, with the highest proportion of these clubs government funded.

School milk

Children in all four countries are eligible for school milk through the EU school milk subsidy scheme although it is unclear how the impact of BREXIT will affect this. Claims can be made by schools, local authorities, suppliers or organisations set up for this purpose. In England, Scotland and Wales the school milk subsidy scheme is administered by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

Within these areas all pre-school children who are under 5 and in day care are eligible for free milk. This is organised by Nursery Milk Reimbursement Unit on behalf of the Department of Health. More information on Eligibility for the school milk subsidy scheme can be found here:

Pupils regularly attending Ofsted-registered pre-school, nursery, primary or secondary school are eligible for subsidised milk. Pupils regularly attending Ofsted-registered primary or secondary school are also eligible for subsidised milk products and yogurt. Additionally, in Wales, children in Key Stage 1 are eligible for free milk, funded by the Welsh Assembly government.

Milk is also available to nursery, primary and post-primary pupils as a subsidised cost in Northern Ireland, and is provided free of charge to all pupils in special schools, through the EU School Milk Subsidy Scheme. However in NI this is administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Useful links

Childhood obesity: a plan for action -

Childhood obesity: a plan for action, chapter 2 -

Children’s food trust -

School food: top marks - A summary report on food in schools research in Northern Ireland -

Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act -

The Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards and Requirements) (Wales) Regulations -

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