This week Caterer and Hotelkeeper launches a campaign to gain a commitment from the incoming Government to support the school meals service and continue investment in the wellbeing of the nation's children.
The School Meals Matter campaign, in association with the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA), is designed to promote the importance of healthy, nutritious school meals and keep school meals provision at the top of the political agenda.
It is widely recognised that healthy food positively influences concentration and behaviour. Encouraging young children to take an interest in food will help contribute to lifelong healthy eating habits and create a new generation of food-lovers and food service professionals.
In the UK at present, one in four children aged four is obese and this figure rises to one in three in 11-year-olds. As obesity rates have soared, so has the number of cases of type 2 diabetes, which is linked to lifestyle. Between 1997 and 2003 there was a 74% increase in new cases of diabetes, costing the National Health Service £1m an hour to treat.
A well-funded school meals service can contribute to a reduction in these alarming figures by encouraging children to engage with food and embrace a healthier lifestyle.
We're calling on the hospitality industry to support our School Meals Matter campaign by lobbying the new Government to continue investing in school meals provision.
Following Jamie Oliver's Jamie's School Dinners campaign, which began in 2005, the Government pledged £280m of transitional funding in the form of the School Lunch Grant, with the aim of increasing school meals take-up by helping to keep the price down.
However, this financial support is scheduled to cease in March 2011. According to Beverley Baker, chair of LACA, many local authorities will struggle to continue offering the same level of service without it, and the worst-case scenario is that school meals could be withdrawn entirely.
Rob Rees, newly appointed chair at the School Food Trust, welcomes anything that keeps the momentum of school food in the public eye. He added: "Caterer is doing a brilliant job in highlighting the importance of the need to retain financial support from the Government for school meals after 2011."
Vince Pearson, chair of TaylorShaw, the main contract caterer involved in the free school meals trial in County Durham, said that anything which helped boost school meals take-up could only be a good thing. "School Meals Matter is a crucial campaign to ensure that our children's futures don't suffer for the sake of a few pounds saved in the short term."
By Janie Stamford
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