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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Food for Youth

The Western Mail reports that "School Meals can seriously damage your health". This is news how, exactly? Experts claim that a "cheap food culture and regulations that force local authorities to operate 'competitive' school meals services have eroded the nutritional value of school dinners". They used to have a nutritional value? Before I get a flood of complaints from hard-working cooks and dinner ladies, I should point out that I am only being flippant and that their hard work is valuable and valued. After all it is 25 years since I last had a school meal as a pupil. The catering staff do not control their own budgets and I really do marvel that they can produce anything worth eating at all for a budget of 35p per meal. Somebody should tell the journalist and the researchers however that Compulsory Competitive Tendering is as dead as the proverbial dead parrot. The buzz now is best value and that means that the restrictions of lowest price no longer applies. Instead Councils should look to quality as well as value for money. So that cannot be used as an excuse. It is right that local authorities and the Assembly should be promoting nutritional food. The Assembly, thanks to the Welsh Liberal Democrats, have already started on that with free school milk for infants and fruit tuck shops, whilst most schools now provide water for their pupils. There is a long way to go however and the authorities need to get their act together. We cannot continue to give our kids the junk food they want to eat, nor should we be relying so much on frozen pre-prepared and processed foods. Free school breakfasts are a start but there is no substitute for proper investment in a decent school meals service, using local producers for maximum freshness and nutrition.

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