Interview - Rob Rees, chairman of the Children's Food Trust

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The Children's Food Trust is a national charity that provides specialist advice, training and support to anyone who provides food for children.


You will no longer be carrying out the survey of school food after losing your Government funding - what effect do you think this will have?

Knowing how many children are eating good, nutritious food at school is essential in helping to track success and weakness in the system that helps keep our children healthy and well. School food is delivered in so many different ways across England and good national data on this has helped decision-makers to know where to strengthen or adapt support.

The Local Government Association has expressed concern that free schools and academies can opt out of the national food standards. Do you think there should be guidelines for these schools?

All schools should be placing a high value on the benefits of good, wholesome and tasty food for their school community. Evidence shows that where there's good leadership there's good food, which in turn improves children's behaviour, performance and well-being. History has shown us what happens if you don't have standards, and I would hate to see our young people put at risk of poor health by the offer of foods too high in fat, sugar and salt.

In April, councils will have to take on a greater public health role-including tacking childhood obesity, do you believe this is a positive step?

Public health has been under local council directorship before. I hope community leaders will see beyond politics and value the reason why doing the sensible, common sense thing is best. Too many millions of pounds each year are spent by the NHS on tackling the health effects of obesity. Councils will need to take joined up approaches and risks to prevention in the future.

The new report from Ella's Kitchen, which calls for a 'food manifesto for the under-fives', says to date solutions to tackling good nutrition in early years have been fragmented and on a small scale - what about the guidelines you produced for early years settings?

Our guidelines have certainly helped - they've made a big impact in their first year, with really positive feedback from all settings using them. We'd love to see even more settings embracing the guidelines. A national programme may be difficult to deliver and a 'pick n mix' offer seems to be more sensible. The one amazing thing I know from my experience in Gloucestershire is that we're pushing at an open door when it comes to early years staff wanting to learn about good food and giving good food to under-fives.

One of the recommendations of the report is to make cooking and food education compulsory. Is this something you would back?

I know personally, and have seen also via our Let's Get Cooking programme, the power of practical cooking for children. Many food teachers and volunteers work tirelessly to bring food alive in schools, it isn't easy if you want to do it well. The right policy here is essential if we are to have a real hope, in such tough economic times, of retaining a good food culture for Britain.

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