School meal uptake in County Durham has reached 86% since the start of the Government's £40m trial to provide free school lunches in two UK regions.
The pilot scheme, launched in September, sees free school meals made available to primary school children in Durham and Newham in London.
Taylor Shaw, the main caterer on the scheme in Durham, said that participation has grown to an average of 86% across the 209 primary schools it serves in just one term.
If the trial is successful it could be implemented nationwide at a cost of £1b a year to the Government.
However, the School Food Trust (SFT) has said that school meal uptake could also be increased if sold at the right price, following research by London Economics. The SFT is urging more local authorities and schools to mimic the high street by using special offers to tempt customers.
Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the SFT said: "We know that caterers are already working hard to keep costs down, but we can't ignore what our customers are telling us about the price they're prepared to pay."
Round table: The fight to save school meals >> By Janie Stamford
E-mail your comments to Janie Stamford here.
If you have something to say on this story or anything else join the debate at Table Talk - Caterer's new networking forum. Go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Caterersearch.com jobs