WORRIES rules on healthy school meals aren’t being enforced on Teesside have triggered calls for an investigation.
A campaign led by chef Jamie Oliver saw new regulations rolled out in 2015 to clamp down on fried and processed food being served up to youngsters in schools.
But concerns have been raised about the rules not being enforced.
Jamie McCann, director of community services at Stockton Council, suggested councillors could look at dinner standards in future at the latest place select committee.
He added: “We still work to the nutritional standards – and many may remember the campaign by Jamie Oliver a few years ago.
“We still work to those and those regulations are still out there but they don’t seem to be enforced.
“Therefore, a lot of the decisions made by the academies on providers are based purely on cost – and the cost either comes to paying staff less money and having food which takes less preparation.”
Government regulations say schools must provide a healthy and balanced diet – with ”high quality meat, poultry or oily fish” alongside fruit and vegetable and bread, other cereals and potatoes.
Drinks with added sugar, crisps, chocolate or sweets in school meals are not allowed.
And neither are more than two portions of deep-fried, battered or breaded food a week.
The select committee heard how the council still provides food to 50 establishments in the borough through its own catering team.
But ten secondary schools and 13 primary schools have their own arrangements.
A council report stated Stockton’s school meals were “vital” given pockets of deprivation in the borough – with meals sometimes the “only nutritious meal” youngsters may get on a given day.
It added: “The provision of a healthy and nutritionally balanced meal is therefore crucial to many of our children – at the same time, many schools are transferring to academy status and outsourcing school meal provision.
“This is of great concern both in terms of the loss of income to the council but, more importantly, the potential impact of meal changes which may have a reduced nutritional value in some cases.”
Cllr Luke Frost helps run his family’s catering firm and told the committee he understood the problems faced.
The member for Mandale and Victoria added: “We understand the pressures – especially around fresh ingredients, as fresh ingredients have a lot more nutritional value than frozen.
“I do think that we need a strong hold on external catering providers.”
The latest figures covering the Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group area showed 37.7 per cent of children were overweight between 2015/16 and 2017/18.
Stockton Council put £50,000 towards a programme to prevent holiday hunger last summer to help hard pressed families.
Cllr Louise Baldock wanted any probe to ask about what children ate on weekends.
She added: “If the only nutritional meal they get is at school in the week, what the hell are they getting at the weekend? It’s not just holiday hunger, it’s weekend hunger as well.”