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Healthier school meals turn off pupils

Healthy school meals are proving so unpopular with pupils that some school caterers are facing a financial squeeze as students vote with their feet and eat elsewhere or opt for packed lunches.

A push to get better quality food onto school menus to improve the poor diet of millions of children has led to a drop in the number of pupils eating school dinners, a BBC survey on Monday showed.

The backlash against the so-called "Jamie Oliver effect" found that of 59 local education authorities, 35 reported the number of kids eating from the new, healthier school menus had dropped compared with six which said more pupils were taking school meals.

Eight authorities reported no change and 10 said the changes were not applicable.

TV chef Oliver exposed the dire quality of food served in school canteens which in some cases was almost exclusively chips, burgers and pizzas. His television series helped embarrass the government into pledging more money for school catering.

"We expected there to be a bit of a downturn -- children are going to have to get used to eating more healthy food at school," said Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the School Food Trust, a government body established in September last year to promote healthy eating.

"Some schools have proved that it can be done and that children really enjoy eating healthy food," she added.

Hargadon told BBC radio she expected the fall-off to be a temporary dip, a hope echoed by Irene Carroll, head of the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA).

"Unfortunately there does seem to be a dip at the moment but it is very early days in this term, only two months, and I do think that if the same survey was done next April then we would hope the results may be different," Carroll told the Today programme.

She said that if school children didn't opt to take school meals, then many local education authorities would feel the financial pinch.

Some food nutritionists have argued that parents and not schools should bear the brunt of criticism over the poor diet of British children, who are among the fattest in Europe.

A group of mothers recently hit the headlines for passing chips and burgers through the school railings to their children, contravening the school's healthy eating guidelines.

6th November 2006, 15:38
Page updated 5th Oct 2015, 13:25
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