Thumbs down for school meals

HUNDREDS of Sheffield pupils simply can't stomach healthier school meals - and are opting out of the city's biggest lunchtime service.

Monday, 3rd September 2007, 11:39 am
Updated Monday, 3rd September 2007, 11:39 am

Strict new Government regulations on nutritional standards in schools came into force this time last year - but many youngsters have been turning their backs on menus packed with fruit, vegetables and pasta.

Sales in secondary schools receiving meals from the city's main contractor Scolarest fell by eight per cent in the first two terms of the last academic year - and by four per cent in primaries.

Education chiefs also feel higher prices were a factor in the slump - a primary lunch cost 12p more last year after prices were frozen for nine months. Prices rise again this term, up 5p in both primary and secondary schools, with a primary lunch now costing 1.65 each day and 1.70 in secondaries.

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Sheffield was a pioneer in introducing healthier school meals, with plans in place long before Jamie Oliver's Channel 4 series brought the issue to national attention.

New menus were introduced two terms before the national guidelines came into force, following an extensive consultation programme with both pupils and parents and a crackdown on crisps, sausage rolls and fizzy drinks.

Chief officer for the city's school meals service Sallie Swann said pupils had been opting out, especially in the secondary sector.

"In many ways that is not unexpected - and the cost has been a factor. You can't hide an increase of 12p," she said.

"In secondaries young people do have many more options with shops and other outlets nearby. We have been trying to move them away from less healthy choices but that work has not been easy."

In other parts of the country sales have plummeted even more steeply - by 17 per cent in Glasgow - and some providers have been considering pulling out of their contracts.

Further changes are to be introduced in schools this term, with new rules outlawing sweet snacks at morning breaks, with alternatives such as focaccia, dried fruit and savoury breadcakes on offer instead.

A school meals roadshow will be in Fargate on September 8, complete with a 'ready steady cook' healthy food challenge.

A popular council website - www.sheffield.gov.uk/schoolmeals - contains full details of the coming term's menus.