Each child spends an average of pound;6 a week, mostly on sweets, fizzy drinks and crisps - a 42 per cent rise in two years, a study for catering firm Sodexho revealed.
The study, based on interviews with 1,390 children aged eight to 16 and 1,209 parents, also found that 84 per cent of pupils liked or quite liked school meals - up 3 per cent on 1998.
Some 76 per cent of parents regarded a school catering service as very important - a significant finding in the light of recent legislative changes allowing parents to request a paid meals service where it had been removed, said the report's author, Arnold Fewell.
Other findings included:
An average of pound;1.46 is spent on a school meal, compared with pound;1.28 in 1998;
73 per cent of parents think school meals are very or quite healthy, a rise of 15 per cen;
62 per cent of pupils said education about nutrition balanced very or fairly well with the food avail-able in the dining room. In schools with a food committee, the figure rose to 81 per cent;
26 per cent of schools have a healthy-eating policy, which jumps to 62 per cent if there is a food committee;
Pupils in the East and Midlands eat chips the least frequently - 2.02 times a week, while the North-east has the highest consumption at 2.87;
Sweets remain the most popular purchase for pupils both on the way to and from school.
Sodexho, formerly Gardner Merchant, claimed that the introduction of "smart cards" in 100 school canteens could help to cut pupils' extra-curricular snacking habits.
By replacing cash, the cards allowed parents to make "payments" for their children knowing that the cards can only be used to buy food at the school.
The School Meals Survey 2000, pound;95 from Sodexho, 020 8763 1212