SCHOOLCHILDREN across the Capital will be able to demand halal meals under a radical overhaul aimed at ensuring canteens serve the freshest, healthiest and most ethically sourced food to pupils.
Amid signs of an ongoing dietary crisis in the Lothians – where nearly one in ten eat no fruit or vegetables – every city school has been set an April 2015 deadline for achieving Food for Life accreditation.
They have been tasked with meeting tough new standards, set by the Soil Association, in a bid to transform the eating habits of city youngsters.
Criteria laid down range from ensuring school meals contain no undesirable food additives, genetically modified ingredients or hydrogenated fats to a stipulation that 75 per cent of dishes are freshly prepared.
Canteens will also be tasked with providing menus which are compliant with “all dietary and cultural needs”, including halal and other religious requirements. It is understood some city families have made inquiries about children receiving halal meals at school, although there is currently no systematic provision for this in Edinburgh.
Parents and nutrition experts said some schools would already be offering some of the proposed improvements but stressed that Food for Life’s city-wide scope could be a game-changer.
Mum of two Emma Conroy, founder of Edinburgh Nutrition, said: “It sounds excellent – I would be very much in favour of a ban on hydrogenated fats in particular. That’s a huge issue at the moment.
“I think there could be quite a lot of teething problems but all of these goals are fantastic. I would hope that it would make a significant contribution.
“If a child can get at least one really good, nourishing meal a day to encourage good eating habits in later life, I am all in favour.”
The Food for Life move piles yet more pressure on city primary schools ahead of the roll-out of P1-3 free meals from January, with education chiefs predicting a 60 per cent uptake rate.
Opposition leaders have welcomed the new drive but said Edinburgh was playing catch-up.
Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green member for Fountainbridge-Craiglockhart, said: “It’s good that Edinburgh is at last on the Food for Life train but it’s still very much in the slow lane.”
City leaders said their new drive would be “cost neutral”, adding that the aim was to maximise benefits through a “whole school approach”.
Councillor Cathy Fullerton, vice-leader for education, said: “Food education is developed alongside the school food service, meeting curriculum requirements and helping to ensure that children of all ages learn more about where food comes from, the importance of a healthy diet, and how this relates to the food at school.”
Last year the uptake in school meals in Edinburgh reached a five-year high, with over 2.5 million meals served – an increase of 6.5 per cent.