Growing numbers of children are enjoying a nutritious midday meal at school.
Menus are on a four-week cycle, to ensure variety, and are completely changed every six months, at Easter and October half term, to coincide with weather getting warmer and colder.
The menus that started this week include new puddings and some old favourite dishes that have proved popular in the past.
Take-up of meals in primary schools has risen steadily in recent years, said Chris Wilson, schools catering manager with the government catering service, which provides meals across 33 primaries.
‘The school meal is becoming increasingly popular, with more than 650,000 served last year alone. That’s an increase of some 140,000 meals over the past six years.
‘January, one of the chilliest months, when parents want their children to have a warm meal, tends to be the most popular month for take-up and this January more than 3,700 meals were served every day.’
Menus are designed to whet children’s appetites while meeting 14 key nutritional standards.
‘Keeping the levels of salt, fat and sugar low while making sure essential nutrients are available is key to the design of our menus,’ Chris said. ‘It’s a tricky balance, providing food that children are prepared to eat while offering a range that will stimulate interest and widen the palate.
‘Whether suggesting a tax on sugar, criticising levels of salt in the diet or just observing that too much fat is being consumed, there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by without another report or piece of research endorsing the role a balanced diet, allied to appropriate exercise, plays in helping children enjoy life to the full.’
School meals staff have a vital role to play in tempting fussy eaters to try new foods, Chris said.
‘The popularity of the service is testament to the hard work and effort our staff put in to not only producing the meals but also to all those within schools who support the service and encourage children to participate in a healthy diet. It’s amazing how many fussy eaters will try food in a school environment, with the right encouragement, that they might not try at home.’
School meals are £2 a day. Children of parents in receipt of Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employed Person’s Allowance or Income Support are eligible for free school meals. One in five children currently qualifies.
Parents who want to sign up their children for meals should contact their school’s administrator. Schools collect money at the start of each half term.
Parents are also invited to visit the school meals wiki and leave comments and queries here