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New powers allow price promotions on school meals

03 Jan 2012

The government has announced that under new powers, schools will be able to offer price promotions on meals to particular pupils to encourage more children to try a healthy school lunch.

The new rules will mean schools can target pupils not eating school lunches or where uptake traditionally drops off, such at the start of secondary school.

For example, schools may choose to offer £1 meal deals for pupils starting a new school to get them into the canteen, special prices for siblings regularly eating school lunches, and cut price meals for a different year group each day to encourage them choose healthy school meals regularly.

Children's minister Sarah Teather said: "School meals beat takeaways hands down on the quality of food they serve, but up until now they have struggled to compete on price. Getting children into the school canteen is vital - the benefits of healthy school meals are clear. These new powers are an important step in tackling childhood obesity, and will mean schools can help hard-pressed families.

"No longer will schools be tied by complicated red tape, instead they will be able to use their initiative to increase take up of school meals. Already we've seen some great examples of pioneering schools keen to offer special deals – now others across the country will be able to follow suit."

Judy Hargadon, chief executive of the Children's Food Trust and the School Food Trust added: "When children eat better, they do better – which is why we want to see more children able to have a healthy school meal every day, and why it's in the interests of schools to do everything they can to boost take up. 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.

"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. Even on a much smaller scale, we know that many schools are keen to help families who don't qualify for free school meals but might be struggling to find money for lunches every day. We're particularly keen to test out how these powers can help larger families with the costs of school meals and will also be producing a guide to using the new legislation for all schools next year."  

The latest annual school food survey showed that, while the uptake of school lunches has increased across the board, there is a drop off of 6.5 percentage points between primary and secondary school.

Earlier research by the School Food Trust also showed that almost 6 out of 10 parents were keen to switch to school meals if they were offered price promotions.

Lynda Mitchell, LACA chair, supports the move: "Any initiative that tries to encourage more children and young people to opt for a healthy school meal, can only be seen as a positive move.  LACA welcomes the introduction of these new powers to give schools and caterers greater flexibility on pricing and greater opportunity to drive young people back from the cut price local takeaways.

"In these hard economic times, affordable prices are a persuasive factor for parents, particularly for those who do not qualify for free school meals and especially for those who have to cover the cost of feeding more than one child at school.  Maintaining affordability has always been a key issue for all LACA's Members and they will welcome this move to help to take some pressure off family budgets and allow parents to give the priority they want to give to their children's health.

"With these new powers allowing greater freedom for schools to offer special discounts and price deals on healthy school meals, there are a number of creative promotional ways available to caterers and schools to encourage more children and students to try a school lunch.  However, these really should be seen as great marketing tools that are effective as a short term measure but not necessarily the solution to sustaining affordable prices and take up of school meals across the country in the longer term.

"The only real way to resolve the issue of encouraging more children and young people to take school meals on a consistent basis 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.

"This is a finance vs health investment dilemma. If we really want to see more children eating better and living healthier lives and if we seriously want to reduce obesity as well as the cost of healthcare in the future, then affordable school meals through realistic financial investment either from Local Authorities or the Government is the answer."