The Government this week refused to bow to pressure to legislate for better standards in school meals.
Its response came despite growing public and media attention over the state of food in British schools, which is being highlighted by Jamie Oliver's new Channel 4 series, Jamie's School Dinners.
But Derek Twigg, parliamentary under secretary of state for schools, defended the Government's position on school meals to parliament.
"The Government has a good record in taking steps to deal with the problem [of school meals] and we will continue to take action on it. We are empowering schools, pupils, parents and communities to lead the way from the bottom up according to local circumstances, rather than through a top-down approach that tries to make one size fit all," he said.
Twigg also opposed attempts by fellow Labour MP Geraint Davies to bring in statutory requirements for tighter control on school nutrition standards and remove unhealthy options from school dining rooms through a private member's bill.
"Introducing legislation that puts the onus on the local education authorities to ensure minimal standards is not the way to go," he said.
However, the Government's plans to address the crisis in school meals remain unclear, with the crucial issue of funding unanswered.
Twigg said the Government had invested £2.5m in the School Food Programme, but this remains woefully below the level of funding in Scotland, where £63m is being pumped into improving school nutrition.
"This investment should be from the top," said Jennette Higgs at the Health and Education Trust, which campaigns for better school meals. "What has not happened is a national-level recognition that quality school food and drink provision should be part of the backbone of each and every school.
"Furthermore, in order to equip our kids to be able to feed themselves a nutritious and enjoyable diet for life, we need to see cooking skills back as part of the core curriculum."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education and Skills said it had not yet decided what funds would be made available to schools and industry to improve the school meals crisis.
- To get involved with Oliver's Feed Me Better campaign, go to www.feedmebetter.co.uk and sign the petition. So far almost 3,000 people have signed up and organisers predict 20,000 signatures by the end of the series.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 3 March 2005