Low uptake means cost of school meals could riseWhich? research reveals school meal price problem

29 August 2011

Boy looking mournfully at plate of food

Without a higher take up of school meals, prices will increase or there could be a drop in standards.

Only 45% of school children have school meals, Which? research has found - 10% less than is needed to keep down the cost of providing healthy lunches.

Schools need at least 55% of their students to take school lunches in order to control the costs of providing meals. Our research also highlighted some worrying increases in the cost of meals over the last year - 3% on average.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast this morning, Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: 

'At a time when many people tell Which? their number one concern is rising food prices, it will come as an unwelcome surprise to hard-pressed families to see that some local authorities are increasing their prices by as much as 17% - well above inflation.'

Parents in certain areas will be hit harder with school dinner price increases than others as their children go back to school. Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council has increased its prices by 17%, and Lewisham Borough Council by 14%. 

School meals research

Which? sent Freedom of Information requests to 154 councils in England to ask about the cost of school meals, as well as how many children chose to take them.

Around two thirds of councils responded, and the results show that without higher take up prices will either continue to rise, or there will have to be a corresponding drop in the quality of the food served.

Richard Lloyd said: 'School meals in most areas are still a relatively low cost and low hassle way to provide a decent lunch for your children. 

'But if schools can't find ways to protect the extra funding that has gone to school meals and increase the number of children taking them up, there's a real risk of even more price hikes or a drop in standards, undoing the progress that has been made over the past five years.'

Back to school

The findings were reported on BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast, as part of a week of activity surrounding the return to school in September. 

Throughout the week Which? and Radio 5 live will be looking at different issues affecting parents at this time of year - including school uniform, health checks, and finding healthy food for their kids' lunchboxes.