Healthy school meals prove unpopular

SECONDARY school children in Suffolk are snubbing school dinners because they have been put off by new healthier menus, it has been revealed.The number of school meals being taken by students in the county has plummeted by as much as 40% in some schools since efforts were made to introduce more nutritious meals.

By Danielle Nuttall

SECONDARY school children in Suffolk are snubbing school dinners because they have been put off by new healthier menus, it has been revealed.

The number of school meals being taken by students in the county has plummeted by as much as 40% in some schools since efforts were made to introduce more nutritious meals.

The news emerged on the same day as the results of a BBC survey which discovered more than half of local authorities had seen a drop in the number of school dinners taken.

More than 70% of these blamed celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's crusade against unhealthy school meals as the reason.

John Ross, county council spokesman for children and young people's services, said Suffolk had seen a drop of between 10-40% in the number of secondary students taking school meals.

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But he said the country was “holding its nerve” and was confident in time youngsters would come round to a healthier way of thinking.

“A child who eats healthily is going to be far more energetic and engaged and learn more. The health benefits are undeniable. Kids will feel better about themselves but it's hard to correct that pattern of: 'I will only eat what I want',” he said.

“It's a big thing for young people to come to terms with. Jamie Oliver's programme undoubtedly created a huge explosion in awareness for a number of reasons.

“The stuff kids were eating on a regular basis horrified people. Parents probably saw Jamie Oliver and said: 'I don't want my kids eating that garbage'.

“It has woken people up and it's starting to get through. The Government has put money in to enable schools to address the issues.

“Suffolk is holding its nerve, believing if it sticks to good practice there will be a turnaround.”

The BBC said that out of 59 authorities that responded to the survey, 35 areas had seen the popularity of school dinners plummet.

Six areas said that they had more pupils taking meals while eight reported no change and 10 said the changes were not applicable. Two-thirds also said children did not like the new menus.

Some areas told the BBC that the warm weather in autumn and smaller numbers of school age children may also have been behind the apparent decline.

Overall the drop in the number of children taking school meals was 5.8%, though individual schools had seen decreases of as much as 30%, the survey found.

Mr Ross said Suffolk had carried out its own research into school dinners and had found many of its pupils disliked the long queues, which could swallow up valuable break time.

He said efforts had been made to open up serving areas to accelerate the process.

Meanwhile, Essex has become the only county in East Anglia to appoint a school meals adviser.

Top chef Jason Walmsley has been taking a professional look at school menus within the county and has already employed five qualified cooks to work with him. Each will be based at a primary school within the area from this month.

The chef hopes to recruit a further five cooks this month.

danielle.nuttall@eadt.co.uk