School caterers have been given fresh ammunition to compete with the take-aways following a Government decision to allow price promotions.
New powers mean that schools will be able to target particular groups of pupils with cut-price lunchtime deals, whereas previously they had to charge the same price for the same item for every pupil, unless they applied for special permission from the Government.
Children's minister Sarah Teather said that school meals beat take-aways "hands-down" in terms of food quality, but until now they have struggled to compete on price, adding: "These new powers are an important step in tackling childhood obesity, and will mean schools can help hard-pressed families."
But Lynda Mitchell, chair of LACA (formerly the Local Authorities Caterers Association), warned that while these new powers are great marketing tools and effective in the short term, it is not necessarily the solution to sustaining affordable prices and school meal take-up across the UK in the long term.
She said: "The only real way to resolve the issue is sustained low cost. Price promotions should be just one measure within a range of educational and financially supported steps which allow parents to choose school meals as the preferred option for their children's long-term health."
The decision has been welcomed by Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the Children's Food Trust and the School Food Trust, who said that when children eat better, they do better.
"Keeping meals affordable is a crucial part of this, and many parents have told us that they'd be more likely to try school meals for their child if they were on offer at a discount," she said.
"Price promotions do increase take-up in the long-term, so while a school wanting to run a really big promotion will have to invest to cover the cost, it will pay back a big return."
By Janie Stamford
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