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Cost puts parents off school dinners

PUBLISHED: 10:46 13 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:23 03 July 2010

THOUSANDS of Norfolk children may be missing out on healthy school dinners because the £2 a meal price is putting parents off, it has been revealed.

New figures show that the county is trailing behind the national average for the percentage of youngsters eating school lunches each day.

THOUSANDS of Norfolk children may be missing out on healthy school dinners because the £2 a meal price is putting parents off, it has been revealed.

New figures show that the county is trailing behind the national average for the percentage of youngsters eating school lunches each day.

It means many children are not getting the nutrients they need to improve their health and concentration levels and boost the quality of their school work.

Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are also lagging behind the national average.

The problem was last night blamed on the rural nature of the region, which drives up food transport costs and keeps school meal prices higher than in many areas.

Chris Cope, operations and purchasing manager for Norse Commercial Services, which provides meals for hundreds of Norfolk schools, said: “We are one of the most expensive authorities, with our meals priced at £2. This is largely because of the council being in an area which is so rural and which has so many rural schools.

“The bigger inner city authorities don't have to transport the ingredients or meals anywhere near as far.”

Norfolk has always been below the national average for take-up of school meals, despite being one of the first areas to implement the new government guidelines for nutrition and ingredients.

The gap may be narrowed this year, with Norfolk County Council coming up with a £100,000 subsidy to freeze meals at the 2008/9 price.

The figures were revealed by the School Food Trust, which received responses about primary school take-up from 145 of 152 authorities and about secondary school take-up from 139 authorities.

Across England, 39.3pc of primary school children ate school dinners each day, while the figure was 35.1pc at high schools.

In Norfolk, it is 35.5pc (94th in England) at primary level and 30.4pc (105th) at secondary level. Suffolk is 35.5pc at primary and 22.7pc (131st) at secondary. Cambridgeshire is 35.2pc and 30.9pc.

Mr Cope said: “We have always been well ahead of the game in meeting all the nutritional requirements. We are always pushing as much as we can to increase numbers.

“We do various promotions. We invite parents into schools to have meals with their children. Our managers do taster sessions.

“But I understand that when you have two, three or more children at school, the money soon adds up.”

The last time school meal take-up increased in England was in 2004 - the year before TV chef Jamie Oliver highlighted the poor quality of some school dinners and began a campaign to improve them.


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