Extensive research on school meal provision in England has led to the implementation of both food based standards (FBS; e.g. 2 portions of fruit and vegetables should be available per child, per day) and nutrient based standards (NBS; e.g. an average school lunch must provide at least 193 mg of calcium). Currently, Northern Ireland (NI) follows only FBS. Therefore, the aim of this research was to evaluate school meal provision in NI in relation to the 14 NBS followed in England.
A random sample of 20 primary and 10 post-primary schools was selected to equally represent schools from each Education and Library Board (ELB), management type (controlled, maintained) and urban/rural locations. All schools provided a menu cycle (1–4 weeks), composite recipe information, preparation methods, cooking methods, ingredient and product information. Saffron (Fretwell-Downing Hospitality Ltd, 2012) was used for the nutritional analysis of menus and the School Food Trust's NBS( 1 ) were used to evaluate the menus. A Mann Whitney U Test compared the total number of NBS met between different types of schools (primary (PS) vs post-primary (PPS); ELB; management type; urban rural) and data are presented as median (25th and 75th percentiles).
The majority of PS met 11 (10, 12) of the 14 NBS and the majority of PPS met 8 (7, 9; Table) with PS being significantly more likely to meet the NBS (P < 0.001) than PPS . No significant differences were seen between school types, such as ELB, management type or urban/rural locations.
The present results have highlighted energy and key nutrients (carbohydrate, sodium, calcium, iron and zinc) that currently do not conform to the School Food Trust's NBS. These findings are consistent with previous research in England [e.g.( 2 , 3 )] and highlight that more targeted strategies to address these ‘problem nutrients’ may be required by school meal providers in NI.