The government has announced £21m of new funding for the School Food Trust in the latest attempt to address plummeting take-up of school meals.
The funding, announced by Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on Thursday, is intended to support the Trust's ongoing work to improve the quality of school food and increase the take-up of meals.
According to figures from the Local Authority Caterers Association, the national average for meal uptake at secondary level is at its lowest ever level, at 35%.
Balls made his announcement at the official launch of the School Feast (Food Excellence and Skills Training) network of 16 training centres for schools cooks, at Thames Valley University.
He also said that a further £2m would be made available to expand the Feast programme, on top of £2m capital funding originally pledged.
"The money that has been spent on improving the quality of ingredients and introducing nutritional standards now need to be matched by the training of school cooks," Balls said.
Prue Leith, chair of the School Food Trust, welcomed the funding boost, which followed the recent announcement of compulsory cooking lessons for 11-14 year from 2011, but warned against complacency.
"There are lots of good things going on, but the job is not yet done," she told the audience of school caterers and training providers.
"We must remember that there are fewer children eating school dinners today than there were 10 years ago. It is important that, like all good catering businesses, we get bums on seats in order to make the service economically viable."
By Janet Harmer
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