New report from the Soil Association says government is spending £40 million teaching kids to dislike fruit and veg

27 November 2018

The Soil Association has today, 27 November, launched a State of the Nation report into children’s food in England. The report, launched as part of the Food for Life initiative, provides an overview of how children have eaten in 2018, considering the political, environmental and social forces shaping their diets. Five proposals to improve children’s food in England in 2019 are announced following consultation with children, parents, cooks and teachers.

One key recommendation is that the government fix the School Fruit and Veg Scheme. Over £40 million is spent each year providing a piece of fruit or veg each day for 4-6 years olds, but the produce is typically low quality. Children are being presented with produce so lacking in flavour and texture, its teaching them to actively dislike (or at least distrust) fruit and veg. Instead of introducing a love for healthy fruit and veg, this government scheme is having an entirely counter-productive effect.

On top of this, Freedom of Information requests submitted to the Department of Health and Social Care reveal that a low proportion of the fruit and veg is British, with only 13% of apples and 5% of pears are sourced from this country. These long supply chains mean the produce is shipped around the world, and is often lacking in freshness, so there’s also a high level of waste. The report calls on government to re-specify the scheme so that more of the produce is British, local and organic.

Speaking about the report, Rob Percival Soil Association head of food policy said; “This State of the Nation report from Food for Life reveals the true face of children’s food in England. It shows that while there has been some positive progress this year, there is still a long way to go until a balanced diet of fresh and minimally processed food is the norm for children in this country.”

“The School Fruit and Veg Scheme is broken. Not only is the produce often lacking in freshness and of low quality, but data shows that the produce contains higher pesticide residues than equivalent produce found on supermarket shelves, including pesticides associated with a negative effect upon children’s cognitive development. The Government must re-specify the scheme so that a higher proportion of the produce is British, local and organic, and is therefore fresher, of known provenance, containing lower pesticide residues, and is more enjoyable for children.”

A Food for Life teacher survey conducted in 2018 revealed that 92% of teachers think the scheme has the potential to increase children’s fruit and veg consumption.[i] But the teachers who responded to the survey were highly critical of the quality of the produce provided. “Pears are under-ripe and hard, carrots have been sweating in bags for days. Generally, the produce is not as fresh as we would hope, and this means the children don’t eat it,” one teacher said.

Other recommendations in the report;

  • Invest in food in the early years. The Government should urgently review its 30 hours free childcare policy and ensure that early years settings are adequately funded to provide food. Free healthy lunches should be provided for the most disadvantaged children as part of their entitlement, in line with entitlement for free school meals.
  • Safeguard the quality of school meals. The Government should take steps to avoid a new ‘race to the bottom’ in school meals by ringfencing Universal Infant Free School Meal budgets and giving clear guidance to procurers that quality should always be given greater weighting than cost.
  • Put veg on the plate. Government should set the ambition that all children’s meals in cafés and restaurants and visitor attractions are served with two portions of veg.
  • Make Brexit work for veg. Government should use post-Brexit farming policy to make fresh fruit and veg more accessible and affordable to children and families

Through its Veg Cities campaign, Sustainable Food Cities is supporting places grow, cook, sell, serve and save more vegetables.


Leon Ballin
Sustainable Food Cities

Sustainable Food Cities is a partnership programme run by

Soil Association

Food Matters

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
Sustainable Food Cities is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation 

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