6,000 pupils go cold on school dinners

SIX thousand fewer school dinners are served in Suffolk each day than five years ago due to rising prices and dwindling parent confidence sparked by the “Jamie Oliver effect”, it has been revealed.

By Danielle Nuttall

SIX thousand fewer school dinners are served in Suffolk each day than five years ago due to rising prices and dwindling parent confidence sparked by the “Jamie Oliver effect”, it has been revealed.

A new county council report shows the number of school meals served in Suffolk fell to an all-time low last year of just 13,000 a day compared to 19,000 daily in 2000.

The price of a school dinner has also risen from £1.25 five years ago to £1.70 now in order to cover Government increases to kitchen staff salaries.

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This coupled with negative publicity surrounding the quality of school meals, and the fact many children simply don't like the healthier menus - causing them to opt for a packed lunch instead - has seen a dramatic reduction in school meals sales, it has been revealed.

The council is now facing a huge challenge to entice more parents back to school dinners so it can afford to carry on with the system and keep meal prices as low as possible.

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The report, which is set to be discussed by councillors next week, said: “With school meals seemingly constantly in the media spotlight, these negative factors accumulated and began to affect meal take up.

“Ever more pro-active marketing and promotion became necessary to try and sustain the declining volume of sales.

“Significantly, from late 2004, Jamie Oliver ran a series of television programmes that exposed the poor quality of food sold in Greenwich schools. This series, and subsequent and continuing negative publicity, resulted in a massive backlash from parents.

“They assumed, generally without any local enquiry, that the food illustrated on the television was the standard served in Suffolk schools and numbers sold fell dramatically.”

It added: “Additionally, moving menus further towards government expectations, especially coupled with the fall in meal numbers produced by the Jamie Oliver effect, has resulted in further substantially increased unit costs per meal produced.

“Parents and schools very positively received these healthy improvements, but they remain unpopular with children who have opted in large numbers for packed meals from home instead of a school meal.”

Schools have been given government grants to transform school meals but these will run out in three years. The county council says it will need to increase school meals take up by 16,000 before then and increase meal prices to £1.80 to become self-supporting.

Demand has recently begun to increase and the council is hopeful it will be around the 14,000 mark by the end of the year.

Cllr Peter Bellfield, who sits on the scrutiny committee, said: “I heard stories that there was not enough time to produce freshly prepared meals and that the numbers had gone down.

“I'm not a parent any more but I have grandchildren and I would like to think all children have an opportunity of having a good school dinner and the parents can afford it and where they cannot they are given the necessary help.

“Part of my briefing to the officers was to ask what are we doing to improve and stimulate demand for school dinners? We have to do everything we can. It became apparent there was a financial liability growing here and no one appeared to know what it was.”

The issue will be discussed at a meeting of the Resources, Finance and Procurement Scrutiny Committee on March 28.

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