In 2001, a circular addressing both the composition of school meals and food safety issues was introduced in France to improve the nutrient composition of school meals and provided food-frequency guidelines to guarantee dietary balanced meals. The present study assesses the extent to which secondary state schools are familiar with and implement this circular. In 2005, a nationally representative sample of 1440 secondary state schools received a questionnaire on their catering service and the implementation of the circular's recommendations, and were requested to enclose all menus (lunches and dinners) served over 1 month. Menu analysis shows that progress is still required to achieve a meal composition in accordance with the food-group frequency guidelines appended to the circular. Some recommendations are followed by most of the schools, such as limiting high-fat products and providing plenty of raw fruits and vegetables, cooked vegetables and starchy foods. Other guidelines should be implemented further, especially with regard to the nutritional quality of main courses and dairy products, which are met by less than a third and a half of schools, respectively. Specific efforts are necessary for evening meals to ensure that the nutritional requirements of boarders are covered. Some recommendations, such as the food purchasing manager being trained in nutrition (38 % of schools) and the involvement of dietetic expertise when designing meals (6 %), seem to be linked to better dietary balance of meals. Implementation of the circular must therefore be promoted in schools and may require stronger regulatory nutrition standards and better cooperation between schools.
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