Page last updated at 01:38 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 02:38 UK

Meals take-up rises in primaries

School dinners
School meals are less popular since they became healthier

The number of primary pupils in England eating school dinners has risen for the first time since the drive to make meals healthier began, figures show.

Take-up rose by 2.3% to 43.6% in the year to April, after a 1% fall in the previous 12 months.

But secondary school pupils continue to turn down school meals, although the decline slowed last year.

The survey was carried out by caterers and the School Food Trust - set up in 2005 to promote healthier school meals.

At secondary level in 2007/8, there was a 0.5% fall in take up of school meals, which followed a 5% fall in the year to April 2007.

The last time take up of school meals increased in England was in 2004 - the year before TV chef Jamie Oliver began his campaign for better quality school dinners.

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New guidelines on healthy eating in schools were introduced by the Westminster government from September 2006 and standards for vending machines, breakfast clubs and tuck shops came into force a year later.

From September, definitive food and nutrient-based lunch standards come into force in primary schools, with secondary and special school standards coming in a year later.

Healthy eating has been on the menu in Scotland for even longer, with sweets and fizzy drinks being banned from schools.

The take up of school meals is slightly higher in Scotland, with 47% of pupils of all ages eating school lunches, compared with roughly 40% in England.

Similarly, uptake in primary schools is rising but falling in secondary schools - down 2% in the past year.

A new generation of primary schoolchildren are now getting proper meals at school
Jamie Oliver, TV chef

Judy Hargadon, chief executive of The School Food Trust, said: "This survey demonstrates that the huge effort that schools and caterers are putting in is beginning to succeed in changing the tastes and habits of a new generation of children."

But while the results "scotched the myth" that children would not eat healthy meals, there were still challenges ahead, she said.

"Many teenagers still need a great deal of convincing and with rising food costs putting strain on the service, this is a corner that needs to be turned as soon as possible."

TV chef Jamie Oliver said he was "massively encouraged" by the figures.

"I always said this would take 10 years to really see results but it looks like the corner has been turned, certainly in primary schools, in just three years and that's a fantastic achievement," he said.

"A new generation of primary schoolchildren are now getting proper meals at school and as they move up the school system, we should start to see this having an impact on food choices in secondary schools."

He praised the work of the School Food Trust and also dinner ladies, parents, teachers, head teachers and councillors "who passionately believe that we can't go back to the days of feeding our school kids reheated food that was lacking in nutritional value".


SEE ALSO
Pupils shunning healthy canteens
07 Jul 08 |  Education
'Snub' for healthy school meals
24 Jun 08 |  Scotland
School-gate fast food ban urged
28 Mar 08 |  Health
Schools told to end meals decline
02 Oct 07 |  Education
Oliver: school food change 'slow'
01 Nov 07 |  Education

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