SHEFFIELD schools are being urged to take on the takeaways – by offering special meal deals on healthy lunchtime grub.
Restrictions on the pricing of school lunches are being scrapped by ministers, allowing headteachers to compete with takeaways which frequently target pupils with special offers.
Sheffield’s own council-run school meals service already promotes lunchtime offers as far as it can.
A recent deal saw parents of reception-age pupils offered a week’s free meals as they started school in Year 1.
And in secondary schools students have been able to buy a combination of healthy food items for a cheaper price than if they purchased them individually.
But the new rules coming into force next year will allow schools to go much further.
They will soon be able to offer price promotions on meals to particular pupils, encouraging more children to try a healthy school lunch.
It will mean schools can target pupils who are not usually eating lunches or at times when uptake traditionally drops off, such as at the start of secondary school.
For instance, a school could offer a £1 lunch for youngsters starting at a new school, to encourage them to try out the canteen.
Or there could be special prices for siblings regularly eating school lunches, helping families to afford healthy food.
Another option could be to cut the price of meals for a different year group each day to encourage them to choose school meals regularly.
Children’s minister Sarah Teather said: “School meals beat takeaways hands down on the quality of food they serve, but until now they have struggled to compete on price.
“Getting children into the school canteen is vital. The benefits of healthy school meals are clear.
“These new powers are an important step in tackling childhood obesity, and will mean schools can help hard-pressed families.
“No longer will schools be tied by complicated red tape. Instead they will be able to use their initiative to increase take-up of school meals.”
A spokesman for Sheffield Council said incentives already in place were helping meal take-up to rise. Primary schools able to increase sales by five per cent over a five month period received a cash incentive.
“All schools now have greater flexibility in planning bespoke menus that have ‘pupil appeal’ with the aim of getting more youngsters to eat in and not visit local take-aways,” he said.
“The uptake of meals in Sheffield is continuing to rise, as has been the trend over the last four years.
“Our main focus in the new year will be encouraging parents of free-meal pupils to take up their entitlement – this can mean cash savings of up to £380 a year for a primary pupil parent.”