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The truth about food and drink in schools

School dinners have come a long way since the days of turkey twizzlers.

This month, Populus research commissioned by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and expert partners sheds light on current attitudes towards food and drink in schools.

Jamie Oliver successfully campaigned for food education to be made part of the national curriculum in 2013. The government’s School Food Plan, published by the Department of Education in 2013, sets out to transform what children eat in schools and how they are educated about the topic.

The Plan aims to make healthy, good food part of school life, teaching children about the pleasures of growing, cooking and eating proper food. A mixture of cooking, growing vegetables and learning about animal husbandry are all examples of food education being incorporated into the curriculum and into the life of schools.

What do parents think?

Overall, the research shows that parents are supportive of healthy eating policies in schools, but that there can be a culture of unhealthy foods and drinks in schools for special occasions, such as fundraising events.

According to Populus research, a vast majority (80%) of parents said it was important that food and drink brought into school at breakfast, break and lunchtime was covered by a healthy school policy, rising to 88% for food and drink offered by the school itself.

Nearly all parents think it is important that cooking and nutrition education are provided in schools according to the research, but only around half (54%) are satisfied with the cooking and nutrition education provided in their eldest child’s current school.

Dads are more likely to think unhealthy items should never be present in schools, and sugary drinks in particular are likely to be singled out by parents as unacceptable in schools.

Research explores the curriculum, the whole school approach and behaviour change. School leaders, parents, pupils, catering organisations, NGOs, governors and others all took part.

Commenting on the report, Jamie Oliver said:

“This major report has studied all the data. We’ve spoken to everyone, from headteachers, to food teachers, parents, school governors, and kids themselves. And we’ve proven the simple point that we need to help kids apply food knowledge in the real world, and we need to support our dedicated food teachers. We must stop giving our kids contradictory messages. Most of all, if we want healthy children, we need to make all schools healthy zones. Full stop.”

The report shows that the quality of food as well as food education has improved over the last decade, with areas for further improvement too. You can read the full report and supporting documents here.

Populus’s Omnibus team helps businesses and brands understand what matters most to the people who matter most to them. From research agencies to government bodies, we deliver insight in the UK and 75 countries worldwide.

View the full Data Tables here.


Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of 573 UK adults aged 18+ between 2 and 3 August 2017. Data were weighted in order to be demographically representative of adults in the UK. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at www.populus.co.uk

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