Nearly two-thirds of secondary schools in England will miss the deadline for new meal standards, the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) has warned.
LACA issued the warning ahead of a school meals summit, which is to be held today at London's Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.
The new nutrient-based meal standards, which became law in primary schools last September, come into force at secondary schools in England from 1 September.
However, a survey conducted by LACA, which has more than 1,200 members responsible for the services in 130 of England's 150 Local Education Authorities (86%), found that nearly half (48.6%) of secondary schools will only be partly ready for the new standards by the deadline.
Nearly a fifth (16.2%) of school caterers said they will not be compliant at all.
As part of the new standards, students will have to buy a two-course lunch rather than choose à la carte-style as before, and caterers fear that this will prove unpopular.
Nearly 80% of those surveyed said they believed a further drop in school meal uptake was likely as a result, which would force the service, that has been in decline since Jamie Oliver's 2005 school dinners campaign, to the wall.
LACA chairman Neil Porter said: "There are few schools with stay-on-site policies for lunchtimes, and lunch hours are now averaging 30 minutes.
"So how can you feed upwards of 1,000 students set meals with the added complication of kitchen and dining areas not being able to cope with new food preparation and the increased numbers?"
LACA has called on the Government to amend the new law and will reveal its more workable solution to healthy dinners at the summit.
See our school dinners news round-up for more.
By Kerstin Kühn
E-mail your comments to Kerstin Kühn here.