Vulnerable children should be given free school meals and all pupils leaving education should know how to cook at least 10 dishes, Jamie Oliver has said.
The TV chef also called for children to be protected from junk food advertising – a move endorsed by Henry Dimbleby, the British businessman and co-founder of food chain Leon.
Speaking at the Future of Britain conference, sugar tax campaigner Mr Oliver laid out his three priorities for improving the health of Britain’s children.
He highlighted London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to make school meals freely available to all primary-aged pupils for 2023/24, a policy the chef suggested should be replicated across England.
In February, Labour’s Mr Khan said a one-off £130 million programme, which comes into effect from September, would help struggling households amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Funded by additional business rates income, it is estimated the move will help around 270,000 primary school pupils and save families in London around £440 per child across the year.
Currently, households in England receiving universal credit must earn below £7,400 a year before benefits and after tax to qualify for free school meals.
Discussing his three proposals for improving Britain’s health, Mr Oliver said it was “profoundly important” for the most vulnerable children in the country to receive free school meals.
The 48-year-old said: “As a country, as a team, we have to protect those children. We have to get that over the line.
“Mayor Sadiq is actually doing it… local people like up in York are doing it, in Wales you get it, in Scotland you get it. England is the meanest.”
Asked what he would say to politicians in power about his free school meals proposal, he replied: “Just fix it, it is easy, get it done, crack on.”
Outlining his other priorities, the British chef said the country needed to “protect our children against junk food advertising”.
He added: “And if I had a wish for all of your children, it would be that every child left school knowing how to cook 10 recipes to save their life.”
During his conversation on Tuesday, hosted by broadcaster Emily Maitlis, he also criticised the impact of energy drinks, telling the conference he had been at schools and found that an “unbelievable” number of children were consuming the beverages for breakfast.
The so-called Naked Chef said that was despite warnings on the labels of some energy drinks saying they should not be sold to children.
“Energy drinks have the power to make a class less intelligent,” he warned.
“Every day I think about this, every day I worry about this and it can be fixed – it is all very doable.”
Mr Oliver said voluntary action from the food sector “doesn’t work” as he called for greater intervention from ministers.
He said there was “relentless” advertising on TV and online aimed at school pupils as he called for stronger rules on marketing campaigns.
Speaking ahead of the TV chef, Mr Dimbleby, who produced a National Food Strategy for the UK Government last year, said more Government intervention was required to regulate the advertising market and help fix Britain’s “broken” food system.
Mr Dimbleby said both consumers and the food industry were “stuck” in a “junk food cycle” that only regulation could break.
He said: “If one company stops developing and selling unhealthy foods, their competitors will simply do it for them and hoover up the products, the profits.
“They are caught in a junk food arms race and it is too commercially dangerous for any of them to disarm unilaterally.
“Unless the Government intervenes to stop them, each company will keep dreaming up ever more shameless ways to fill our shopping baskets with cheap, profitable, sugary junk.”
He said the “junk food cycle” entailed “huge food companies slugging it out at children’s eye height on the supermarket shelf and making us sick in the process”.
“Individual willpower alone is not enough to break the junk food cycle. It needs Government intervention,” said Mr Dimbleby.
He said an “obvious move” would be to restrict the promotion of junk food to children.
The campaigner highlighted that the Conservative Government had pledged to act but said that “under pressure from corporate lobbyists and the libertarian brigade”, ministers had “repeatedly kicked the legislation into the long grass”.
He said his strategy had also recommended a £3 billion “sugar and salt reformulation tax”, which he said modelling suggested could trim 15-38 calories off the average daily intake.
He argued that even small interventions could have a major impact, stating that on average, it would take a reduction of only 25 calories per person a day to “stop weight gain all together at a national level”.
The money raised from the new tax would go towards helping less well off families to buy fresh produce and to fund cooking lessons, he said.
Mr Dimbleby argued that politicians had shied away from acting on the question of taxing unhealthy food as they are “afraid to be seen as interfering or judgmental”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub