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Comparison of a sample of primary school dinners to current nutritional standards

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School lunches contribute approximately one third of a child's daily nutrient intake (Gregoryet al., 2000). In 2008 the School Food Trust (SFT) introduced the ‘Food and Nutrient Based’ standards (FNS) in primary schools (PS) in England to replace the ‘Food Based’ standards (FBS) which were reported to be poor in providing nutritious school lunches (SFT, 2007). For the purpose of this research the SFT's ‘Nutrient Based’ standards (NBS) will be used to compare to the Northern Ireland (NI) school menus. The aim of this project was to investigate if a small sample of NI school menus meets the NBS while following the current FBS. Methods: 

Three primary schools in NI were selected by the Public Health Agency (PHA). Each school provided 4 week menu cycles (beverages not included) and recipes for nutrient analysis (WISP, v3.0 Tinuviel Software Ltd, UK). Nutrients were calculated as actual daily provision of school lunches per pupil. Statistical analysis was performed using SPSS (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Data was assessed for normality using the Kolmogorow–Smirnov test. The median results for each nutrient were compared to the NBS using a Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test. Results: 

Some of the key nutrients which were found to have significant differences between the school's nutrient analysis and the NBS (mean (IQR) are shown in Table 1. While not statistically significant, saturated fat for each school fell below the NBS. A more concerning result was found for School A that calcium fell below the NBS although this was not significant. Discussion: 

Overall, the SFT's NBS were met by ‘all schools’ with the exception of iron, which was significantly lower and sodium, which was significantly higher. Previous research in England also found that PS did not meet NBS for sodium and iron (SFT, 2007). On the other hand, this previous research suggested that English PS were not meeting standards for carbohydrates, saturated fat, non-milk extrinsic sugars, calcium and fibre when following the FBS (SFT, 2007). While this current investigation suggests these three PS do meet the NBS for this list of nutrients, there are a number of limitations to the study. Wastage of the school meals was not taken in to consideration and standard recipes were used when schools did not provide their own recipes. Conclusion: 

Although this investigation is not representative of NI schools it does suggest these three PS are likely to be providing meals which meet the SFT's NBS, while following the current FBS. Further work in the reformulation of recipes to address the iron and sodium content of the school menus is warranted. Larger investigations to examine what foods are actually consumed by the children will provide more accurate conclusions. References: 

Gregory, J., Lowe, S., Bates, C., Prentice, A., Jackson, L., Smithers, G., Wenlock, R. & Farron, M. (2000) National Diet and Nutrition Survey-Young People Aged 4–18 Years Old, Vol 1. London: The Stationery Office.

School Food Trust (2007) Children's lunchtime choices following the introduction of food-based standards for school lunch; observations from six primary schools in Sheffield. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed on 2 October 2010].

School Food Trust (2008) Nutrient Based Standards. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed on 2 October 2010].

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: NICHE, University of Ulster, Coleraine, UK and 2: Public Health Agency, Belfast, UK e-mail:, Email:

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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