"Draconian" healthy eating rules are driving kids to go in search of junk food, it has been claimed.
The number of children eating healthy school lunches in Glasgow has plummeted by 30,000 since national nutritional standards were introduced, according to Cordia, which provides school meals to the City Council.
Fegrus Chambers (pictured), the firm's managing director, claimed that many pupils were choosing to make a "100m dash" for a bag of chips or deep-fried pizzas rather than opt for a healthy school dinner.
"There are draconian specifications in place. Everybody accepts we want to improve the diet of children and reduce obesity. The question is: is it the right way of going about it?" he told BBC Radio Scotland.
Possible solutions include preventing children from leaving the school grounds at lunchtime or banning burger vans from operating near schools, but Chambers said that neither idea was "realistically" going to work.
"I believe the answer is to allow the school meals service to compete by providing food which is healthy, but which still has the flavour to entice kids to buy it," he added.
However Mike Lean, professor of human nutrition at Glasgow University, told the BBC it was a "complete absurdity" for school meal providers to be arguing against nutritionally balanced meals.
"If caterers can't manage to make them attractive and exciting and interesting then they need to go back to school," he said. "We have got a great gulf between the caterers whose job is to sell more meals and those of us who believe that children need to be provided with what is best for them."
But he added: "There are other countries, France for example and much of Scandinavia, where they are not given the choice of going out of school to eat something else. The caterers then actually have to produce something that is attractive to the kids and the odd thing is that they love it."
Uptake of school meals in Glasgow fell to 38%, compared with 61% in 2006, a fall replicated across Scotland, but the number of primary pupils eating school meals has increased since the regulations were introduced.
By Janie Stamford
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