Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, is among the senior hospitality industry figures to voice their support for Caterer‘s School Meals Matter campaign.
Cotton said he strongly supports the principles of the campaign, which calls on the post-election Government to continue commitment to school meals provision beyond March 2011, when the £280m transitional funding is scheduled to cease.
And he criticised the UK's funding model for school meals, which he said is the reason behind their "failure".
"In France they spend twice what we do on school meals," he added. "In some local authorities, there are allowances of just 55p per meal, which isn't enough to buy quality ingredients and the children are voting with their feet.
"It has to be a fundamental belief that feeding children well is as much a part of the education process as food is in the healing process in healthcare catering."
Tim Fletcher, head chef at Beechen Cliff School, Bath, said quality was key to increasing school meal take-up.
"School catering shouldn't be about lumpy gravy. The school canteen should be treated like a restaurant, with pupils recognised as customers," he said.
Meanwhile, Michael Coaker, chef lecturer at Thames Valley University and chairman of the Academy of Culinary Arts Chefs-Adopt-A-School initiative, stressed the role a healthy school meal has in a child's health, development and education.
"A balanced meal during the day can improve concentration and behaviour, with the added benefit of contributing to better long term health," he said.
Brian Wisdom, chief executive of People 1st, the sector skills council to the hospitality industry, added that investment and emphasis on a nutritious school meal provision has increased the focus on the skills required to prepare quality food from scratch.
However, it was generally agreed that while investment in school meals is essential, broader support from head teachers, the food service industry, and in particular the general public was necessary to make an impact.
Nick Vadis, executive head chef at Compass Group, said: "The public needs to be aware of the level of complexity that goes into creating a school meal that is nutritionally balanced."
By Janie Stamford
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