Government will miss school meals target

By Liz Stephens

Only a third of secondary school pupils are eating school meals, say figures released today by the School Food Trust (SFT).

The rise in take-up for school meals in both secondary and primary schools in England was less than one per cent, significantly below the government target of 10 per cent by the autumn.

The SFT admitted the government had set them a “very tough” target.

Meanwhile, recent figures from Scotland show take-up of secondary school meals has dropped by 10 per cent in the last five years.

The last time school meal take-up increased in England was in 2004 – the year prior to TV chef Jamie Oliver’s campaign to improve the poor nutritional quality of school dinners, including the infamous ‘Turkey Twizzlers’.

But Prue Leith, chair of the SFT, was encouraged by the results: “We now have a genuine picture of take up across the country and we can see that real progress is being made the length and breadth of England.”

“You can’t change the diet of a nation in ten minutes,” she said.

The Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, David Laws, said: “There are a number of reasons why the government has missed its target – including the rushed introduction of new food standards, before the groundwork had been done to ensure children will eat the new healthier option.”

“The government stands little chance in meeting its targets unless there is both more investment in the school meals service and a massive change in expectations,” he added.

Last year, strict nutrition content guidelines for primary schools were introduced, and they will be extended to secondary schools from this September.

But school caterers have warned that this will mean a lack of variety in school meals as it will be difficult to create a choice of meals which adhere to the tough new rules.

This year, for the first time local authorities were required to provide information for all their schools, not just those they catered for themselves.