Six years of central Government funding for school meals has resulted in satisfaction levels among parents hitting 89%, according to a new study by LACA and ParentPay released today at the launch of National School Meals Week.
More than 10,000 parents were quizzed in the poll, the biggest of its kind, and the results demonstrate the success of school caterers in the years since Jamie Oliver's Channel 4 series Jamie's School Dinners kicked off a school food revolution.
But with central investment no longer ring-fenced to specifically support the school meals service, and free schools and academies exempt from nutritional standards, there is increasing concern that the efforts of the industry will be undone.
The survey also found that the majority of parents had become a lot more concerned with health and nutrition and are keen to know what their children are eating as a result.
The research also revealed that 96% of parents want children to learn to cook at school; 81% want to be able to pay for school meals online; 80% said they wanted more information about what their children had for lunch; and 15% of those entitled to free school meals are not eating them.
Lynda Mitchell, chair of LACA (formerly the Local Authority Caterers Association), said that winning over hearts, minds and bodies in the drive to reduce obesity and build healthier lifestyles calls for a united front.
"In terms of improving the health and lifestyles of children and young people, we are all in this together," she said. "School caterers want to work in partnership with parents and their children's schools as well as education and health professionals to ensure we can continue to provide good, nutritious food from which children and young people can benefit, both academically and physically."
Clint Wilson, chief executive of the online school meal payment and administration service ParentPay, added: "While 94% of parents find online payment easy, they were also pleased it helped reduce bullying."
Sharon Hodgson, Shadow Minister for Children and Families, also welcomed the findings of the research.
"However, clearly more needs to be done to ensure that those who are eligible for free school meals take up their entitlement, both by finding ways of removing the stigma many still associate with it, and making sure that parents are aware of the impact that a good lunch can have on a young person's ability to concentrate and learn in class, and on their health," she said.
Meanwhile Minister of State (Children and Families) Sarah Teather, who came under fire when she revealed that the government has no intention of making nutritional standards mandatory in academies and free schools, also offered her support for NSMW.
She said that healthy school meals help make sure that pupils are well nourished, develop healthy eating habits and concentrate and learn in school. "Every day, LACA members do an amazing job in helping over 3 million pupils across the country enjoy a tasty, nutritious school meal.
"Although I am not able to attend one of the National School Meals Week events, I congratulate LACA, and the local authorities involved, on a wonderful week of activities and hope that more and more pupils enjoy eating a healthy school meal".
NATIONAL SCHOOL MEALS WEEK
Starting today and running all week (7-11 November), National School Meals Week features different themes for each day.
Monday is Get Eating, an invitation for local politicians, celebrities, media and sports people to have a school meal as part of Britain's Biggest School Lunch.
Tuesday is Get Travelling. It's about going global and encouraging pupils to learn about food from around the world.
Wednesday, Get Creating, encourages pupils to have fun with food.
Thursday, supported by Change4Life, is Get 5-a-day and it's linked with the charity Mary's Meals who provide food for children in developing countries.
Friday, Get Remembering, will feature an interview with Falklands War hero Simon Weston about the importance of the 11th day of the 11th month and what it stands for.
By Neil Gerrard
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