Nutritional standards

Nutritional Standards for school lunches and other food in schools came into effect in September 2007 and August 2008. Guidance is available and includes practical booklets for schools and leaflets for parents.

The current nutritional standards were reviewed, including a public consultation in 2020. Following the completion of this review, revised Nutritional Standards will be taken forward when additional funding is secured. Until then, the current Nutritional Standards will remain in place.

Nutritional Standards guidance

The current nutritional standards for school lunches and for other food and drinks in schools came into effect in September 2007 and August 2008

The Public Health Agency has also published a poster for use by schools containing guidance on foods for religious faiths.

Both guidance documents and the poster for use by schools are available to download:

Practical guidance booklets

In support of the School food: top marks programme (see section below) the Public Health Agency has published School food: the essential guide which contains a series of practical guidance booklets designed to help schools improve pupils’ nutrition and implement healthier eating and drinking practices.  

Individual booklets in the series are available here:

Food in schools policy

The Department's Food in Schools policy can also be viewed here:

Leaflets for parents

A leaflet for parents of primary school children has also been produced by the PHA. It contains practical tips for parents, carers and children on how to pack an appetising, healthy lunchbox.

Healthy breaks for schools

The PHA has produced guidance on healthy breaks for schoolchildren and Pre-school children which you can view using these links:

Further background

In December 2001 the Department released a consultation document which set out new compulsory nutritional standards for school meals called:

Our analysis of the responses received showed that there was widespread support for the principles underpinning the revised nutritional standards.

However, service providers, particularly in the secondary sector, pointed out that removing certain foods from school menus, or restricting their availability, could have potentially negative effects on the school meals service as a whole.

In particular, some concern was expressed about the future employment prospects of catering staff working in the service. It was therefore agreed at the time that it would be advisable to consult further with service providers before introducing the standards.

Following agreement with the five Education and Library Boards (ELBs) it was decided to convene a small working group to take forward the introduction of a pilot scheme to test the reaction to the revised nutritional standards. The membership of the group included representatives from the Department, the ELBs and the Health sector.

Around 100 schools took part in the pilot which ran from March 2004 to March 2005. PricewaterhouseCoopers was commissioned by the Department to carry out an evaluation and you can view their report here:

The pilot was successful, proving that the new standards could be implemented without any significant detrimental effect on the school meals service. Therefore, the Department, in conjunction with the ELBs and other school authorities, began to introduce new nutritional standards to schools during the autumn 2005 term as outlined in the consultation document.

Consultation on new nutritional standards (2006)

In 2006 the Department consulted on proposals for new, updated, nutritional standards for school meals and extended the initiative to include other food in schools (vending machines, tuck shops, etc.). You can view the consultation and analysis of responses using the links below

Following the consultation exercise, the Department worked with health and catering professionals to finalise the standards. The updated standards were issued to schools in June 2007 and came into effect from September 2007. The standards were further updated in 2008 to clarify some aspects and provide additional guidance for schools


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