Healthy school meals increase

THE NUMBER of children having healthy school meals in England has risen for a fourth year running – with an estimated 167,000 more children using their school dining rooms last year.


New figures, reported by local authorities and published by the Children’s Food Trust, show that an average of 46.3% of children in England’s primary schools – the equivalent of 1,994,877 children – and 39.8% of pupils in secondary school – the equivalent of 1,298,529 pupils – opted for school meals in the 2011-12 year.


Data from local authorities taking part in the survey indicate a national increase in take up of 2.2 percentage points on 2010-11, up from 44.1% and 37.6% in primary and secondary schools respectively.


In all, the equivalent of almost 626 million healthy school lunches were served up last year – and almost 3.3 million children had healthy school meals every day in 2011-12.


The average price of a school meal rose by 5p, increasing from an average of £1.93 in 2010-11 to £1.98 in 2011-12 – below food inflation rates.


Children’s Food Trust chairman Rob Rees said school canteens have the potential to be “powerhouses for children’s health and their performance at school”. He added: “If a child eats in their school dining room every day, that’s hundreds of chances to help that child eat well.”


The Local Authorities Catering Association (LACA) was “encouraged” by the results. However, it used them to call on government to bring academy schools into line with maintained schools in terms of Nutritional Standards regulations.


Earlier this month, the education secretary Michael Gove announced a review of school food. The number of local authorities reporting to the survey was lower than in previous years but in a subset of councils which did report in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, take up also rose – by 1.2 percentage points in primary schools and 1.8 percentage points in secondary schools, compared with 2010-2011.


Nationally, it means that since robust national monitoring began in 2008-09 – as the impact of focused efforts and investment to improve food in schools began to be seen – almost half a million more children have switched from packed lunches to school meals.