School food standards

The Department of Education launched a new set of mandatory standards for all food served within schools from January 2015.

The standards are designed with schools in mind and aim to enable cooks and caterers to create imaginative and nutritious food.

The main aim is to increase the quality and take up of school meals. This develops a positive food culture within school and enables children to learn about good food choices while providing them with enough energy to get them through the school day. The knowledge they gain will hopefully travel with the children onto adulthood.

The plan focuses around the six main food groups and the portion sizes (opens in a new window) which should be eaten.

The information on this page details the outlines of the main food groups and how they should be used over a typical day and week in some cases. These are the standards used for school lunches served throughout the school day including breakfast, mid-morning break, after school clubs, vending machines and tuck shops. They don't apply to parties or celebrations of a religious or cultural nature or fund raising events.

School food standards

Starchy foods

One or more portions of food from this group every day:

  • three or more different starchy foods each week
  • one or more wholegrain varieties of starchy food each week
  • starchy food cooked in fat or oil no more than two days each week
  • bread with no added fat or oil must be available every day.

Fruit and vegetables

  • one or more portions of vegetables or salad as an accompaniment every day
  • one or more portions of fruit every day
  • a dessert containing at least 50% fruit two or more times each week
  • at least three different fruits and three different vegetables each week.

Milk and Dairy

  • Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein every day
  • a portion of meat or poultry on three or more days each week
  • oily fish once or more every three weeks
  • for vegetarians, a portion of non-dairy protein on three or more days each week
  • a meat or poultry product no more than once each week in primary schools and twice each week in secondary schools.

Foods high in fat, sugar and salt

  • no more than two portions of food that has been deep fried, batter coated, or bread crumb each week
  • no more than two portions of food which includes pastry each week
  • no snacks, except nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit with no added salt, sugar or fat
  • savoury crackers or breadsticks can be served at lunch with fruit or vegetables or dairy food
  • no confectionery, chocolate or chocolate coated products
  • desserts, cakes and biscuits are allowed at lunchtime. They must not contain any confectionary.
  • salt must not be available to add to food after it has been cooked
  • any condiments must be limited to sachets or portions of no more than 10 grams or one teaspoonful.

Healthier drinks

  • Free, fresh drinking water at all times.

The only drinks permitted are:

  • Plain water, still or carbonated
  • Lower fat milk or lactose reduced milk
  • Fruit or vegetable juice (max 150mls)
  • Plain soya, rice or oat drinks enriched with calcium; plain fermented milk (e.g. yoghurt) drinks
  • Combinations of fruit or vegetable juice with plain water (no added sugar or honey)
  • Combinations of fruit juice and lower fat milk or plain yoghurt, plain soya, rice or oat drinks enriched with calcium, cocoa and lower fat milk; flavoured lower fat milk, all with less than 5% added sugars or honey
  • Tea, coffee, hot chocolate.

Combination drinks are limited to a portion size of 330mls. They may contain added vitamins or minerals, and no more than 150mls of fruit or vegetable juice. Fruit or vegetable juice combination drinks must be at least 45% fruit or vegetable juice.

As well as eating the right foods in the right portion sizes, the food needs to be prepared and cooked in a healthy way, for example trimming visible fat from meat, grilling or baking as opposed to frying, not adding extra fat when cooking, halving sugar in baking and substituting with fruit, reading food labels to make better informed choices. Making homemade versions of your favourite foods, so you can control the ingredients and the way in which the food is prepared and cooked. 

The School Food Standards also advise on procurement and good buying standards. They encourage the Food for Life Catering Mark (Derbyshire has achieved Bronze throughout and Gold in two schools). The use of fair trade products, using seasonal foods, sustainable sources of fish (ideally certified by the Marine Stewardship Council) and reducing food waste.

To summarise, a healthy child's diet, should consist of (providing the right portion sizes are used):

  • fruit and vegetables
  • unrefined starchy foods
  • meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
  • milk and dairy foods
  • small amount of food & drink high in fat, sugar and/or salt

These standards are used by our Menu Development Officer to create the delicious menus that your primary school age children eat. The secondary schools use the standards and are all slightly different to cater to each school and pupils different tastes.

For further information and downloads please visit

Academies established between September 2010 and June 2014 are not required to adhere to the School Food Standards regulations. However, they should use the standards as guidance and can sign up voluntarily (opens in a new window).

Related documents

The following document is in Portable Document Format (PDF). You can download software to view PDF documents for free from the Adobe website (opens in a new window)