Nutrition Guidelines for the NHS

Eating well is vitally important for maintaining good health and preventing disease. As the largest healthcare provider in the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) has an important role to play in promoting healthy eating habits. This article will provide an overview of the key nutrition guidelines and standards that the NHS follows to ensure patients and staff have access to nutritious food options.


Diet is a major modifiable risk factor for various chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It also influences obesity rates. The food served in NHS facilities not only impacts the health of patients but also influences the eating habits of staff members. By setting comprehensive nutrition standards across NHS trusts, hospitals, and other facilities, the organization can drive positive dietary changes on a broad scale.

The NHS has responded by creating evidence-based nutrition principles and policies. These aim to improve nutrition quality in hospitals, encourage healthier food environments, and promote nutritious food choices. Some key guidelines cover food procurement, food provision to patients, catering standards, and vending machines.

Nutritional Standards for Food Procurement

The NHS spends over £500 million annually on food supplies. This purchasing power gives the organization significant ability to influence the food system. The NHS has created procurement standards to ensure that all food bought meets certain nutritional criteria. Some key requirements include:

  • Fruit and vegetables must be in season where possible and grown locally or nationally. This provides fresher produce and supports local economies.
  • Meat and dairy products must meet animal welfare standards. For example, only free-range eggs can be purchased.
  • Processed meat products are restricted due to links with poor health outcomes.
  • Fish must come from sustainable sources to avoid overfishing. Primary sources are MSC certified.
  • Specific limits exist for salt, sugar, saturated fat, and trans fats. Foods exceeding these limits are ineligible for procurement contracts.
  • Pre-packed sandwiches, meals, and soups must provide at least one portion of vegetables or fruit per serving.
  • No confectionery or sugar-sweetened beverages can be purchased.

By embedding these robust standards into food procurement, the NHS strongly influences the nutritional quality of ingredients used across all healthcare facilities.

Nutritional Standards for Patient Food Provision

Nutrition standards also guide the meals and snacks provided to patients in NHS hospitals and care facilities. Key requirements include:

  • Patients must have a healthy balanced diet providing adequate energy, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Fruit and/or vegetables must be provided with every meal.
  • Patient menus must include starchy carbohydrates, dairy products, and protein sources at each meal.
  • Meals must cater to relevant dietary, cultural, and religious needs.
  • Foods high in fat, sugar, and salt are limited.
  • Protected mealtimes should allow patients uninterrupted time to consume their meals.
  • Between meal snacks and drinks must also be available outside main meals.
  • Wards should provide access to fresh drinking water at all times.

These standards aim to ensure hospital patients can maintain good nutritional status during their stay which aids recovery.

Catering Standards for Staff and Visitors

As well as patients, NHS facilities serve food to staff members, visitors, and outpatients. Catering outlets for these groups must also meet defined nutritional criteria:

  • Healthy meals, snacks, fruits, vegetables, and drinks should make up at least 50% of catering offerings.
  • Deep-fried foods are restricted.
  • Salt must not be available to add at tables.
  • Catering facilities should promote healthy options through meal deals, marketing, and strategic placement.
  • Where possible, food should be locally sourced and seasonal.
  • All staff involved in food preparation must receive nutrition training.

Through these catering standards, the NHS aims to create a culture of healthy eating that positively influences food choices within healthcare settings.

Nutritional Standards for Vending Machines

Vending machines have also come under scrutiny, with strict nutrition criteria applied:

  • Machines can only sell water, lower-fat milks, fruit juices, and hot drinks.
  • No confectionery, chocolate, or high-calorie snack items are permitted.
  • Savory snack items must meet fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt limits.
  • All items must have clear calorie labelling.
  • Advertising on machines can only promote healthy eating choices.

These vending standards help reduce access to high-calorie junk foods on NHS sites.


Implementing comprehensive Nutrition Guidelines for the NHS facilities has been an important strategy to improve public health in the UK. The policies outlined here show how an evidence-based approach helps ensure patients, staff, and visitors have access to nutritious foods and a healthy food environment. This drives positive dietary changes on both an individual and population level. Going forward, regularly reviewing and updating NHS nutrition guidelines will be essential to reflect new evidence, health priorities, and dietary challenges. Strong leadership and commitment to these standards across all levels of the organization will remain vital for success.

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