FEWER primary pupils eat school meals in Sheffield compared with the rest of South Yorkshire - as a new contractor prepares to take over the service in the autumn.
Figures from the School Food Trust show only 38 per cent of children have a school meal in Sheffield compared with 58 per cent in Doncaster, 50 per cent in Barnsley and 46 per cent in Rotherham.
Increasing expense and a trend towards packed lunches have affected the numbers of youngsters eating a cooked meal at lunchtime.
But a Sheffield Council spokeswoman said meal take-up had been increasingly consistently year on year.
This year’s primary figures had risen by 2.7 per cent and in secondaries by 0.5 per cent - a trend which had been seen for the last four years.
New contractors Taylor Shaw have been signed up to take over running school meals in the majority of Sheffield schools from September.
Leah Barratt, service manager for the council’s School Food Service, said: “We are pleased that we are continuing in a steady upwards direction in terms of numbers of children having school meals.
“We are consistently increasing and will be pushing numbers up in the next contract with better quality food and more hands on approach from the contractor.”
The council hopes the use of local produce, more flexible menus and working more closely with children and parents - all key features in the new contract -will help drive numbers up.
Taylor Shaw has pledged to cook lunches fresh on site within five years as it takes over catering in 121 city schools, which will see an end to meals being cooked in larger school kitchens and driven by van to smaller ones.
The company is to take over from Chartwells in a deal which, if it runs its full course, will be worth £48 million.
The new price of school meals under the deal is yet to be agreed - currently lunches cost just under £2 a day.