The benefits of eating oily fish, especially for children and young people, have been well documented. But The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2014) concluded that consumption of oily fish was well below the UK recommendations of at least one portion (140g) per week across all age groups.
Why do we need it?
Oily fish contains Omega 3 & 6 polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) – also known as essential fatty acids. This means our body cannot produce them naturally and therefore they must be present in the foods we eat. Generally, Omega 3 is found in fish, while Omega 6 is found in grains and nuts. Modern diets tend to be too high in Omega 6 and too low in Omega 3.
Both Omega 3 and 6 PUFAs are important in preventing heart disease, but they are also needed for proper development of the brain.
Adults should aim to have at least 250 mg/day of Omega 3 as part of their total daily fat intake. The recommended daily amount (RDA) can be met by eating fish at least twice a week, with one portion being oily fish. Omega 3 can also be found in vegetable oils, nuts, grains or seeds, however these are only ‘short chain’ Omega 3s. Oily fish include fresh and canned salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and fresh tuna.
Advice for school menus
Since 2006, School Food Standards have requested by law that schools in England have oily fish on the menu every three weeks. However, independent schools are not governed by the Standards so it is our responsibility to this sector to ensure children are provided with well balanced and nutritious menus. Our aim is to not just achieve the school food standards but to go above and beyond them.
We recently formed a partnership with the Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour to revise our nutritional guidelines, focusing on the essential nutrients that affect brain development and behaviour in young people. These guidelines form a practical menu planning tool for chefs across our schools to use when creating their weekly menus. The guidelines recommend the frequency of food items on a weekly menu and try to ensure that food we should not be eating a lot of are restricted and foods we should be consuming more of are promoted. Within these guidelines we have recommended that oily fish should be on a lunch menu once a week, and once a week on a supper menu. This means we are proactively creating more opportunities for children to get their Omega 3 intake.