Hundreds of schools in Halton and across the north west are expected to benefit from a new set of standards for all food served in pupils.

The new guidelines are designed to make it easier for school cooks to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious menus. They will be mandatory in all maintained schools, and new academies and free schools.

Although the previous standards, introduced between 2006 and 2009, did much to improve school food, they were complicated and expensive to enforce.

Cooks had to use a special computer program to analyse the nutritional content of every menu. Often, they ended up following three-week menu plans sent out by centralised catering teams who would do the analysis for them. This meant they couldn’t be as flexible or creative as many would like.

In trials, the new standards proved extremely popular with school cooks, 90% of whom said they were easier to implement than the old standards. They also proved just as effective at delivering the energy and nutrients that growing children need. In fact, those secondary schools that took part in trials reported an increase in the consumption of vegetables, leading to higher fibre, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C intake.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “These new food standards will ensure all children are able to eat healthy, nutritious meals at school.

“We now have a clear and concise set of food standards which are easier for cooks to follow and less expensive to enforce. Crucially we have achieved this without any compromise on quality or nutrition.

“There has been a great deal of progress in providing healthy school meals in recent years and these new standards will help deliver further improvements.”

The new standards include:

• One or more portions of vegetables or salad as an accompaniment every day

• At least three different fruits, and three different vegetables each week

• An emphasis on wholegrain foods in place of refined carbohydrates

• An emphasis on making water the drink of choice

• Limiting fruit juice portions to 150mls

• Restricting the amount of added sugars or honey in other drinks to five percent

• No more than two portions a week of food that has been deep-fried, batter-coated, or breadcrumb-coated.

• No more than two portions of food which include pastry each week.