The Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission presented a report that addresses a major obstacle in procuring healthy school food, namely the translation of school food standards into adequate procurement contract language. While currently focused on the school setting, the technical guidance outlined in the report could potentially pave the way to encourage the publication of a series of other similar publications focusing on other specific food settings, such as work canteens, care homes, hospitals, and prisons.
“Making the healthy choice the default choice is essential if we are to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic spreading across Europe,” said the report authors. “Burdensome public procurement rules should never be an obstacle to providing school children with healthy meals. The report we present today, provides technical guidance on, for example, how to draft clear specifications on foods and food services to be procured, which is intended to support EU countries in their efforts to provide healthy food in schools.”
The report supports the EU High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity (HLG) and the Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014–2020. Its specification sheets are based on recommendations from national school food policies, mapped across the EU in 2014 by the Joint Research Center. It covers key food groups such as fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy products, cakes and sweets, and nutrients such as salt, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, and micronutrients (iron/calcium/vitamin C, etc.). It also includes specifications for food preparation and catering services in general.
According to the report, benefits of increasing access to healthy food in schools include the development of better dietary habits in childhood, reduced incidence of childhood obesity, and improved school attendance and performance.