The Government stopped short of an all-out ban on junk food in schools as it unveiled a pound;280 million funding package designed to transform the quality of pupil meals.
Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said the money would allow spending on school dinners to increase to 50p per pupil in primaries and 60p in secondaries. Some schools spend only 37p per pupil.
The Government also announced plans for a new School Food Trust to provide specialist support to school catering services and local authorities.
But Ms Kelly was accused of political opportunism when the announcement this week coincided with the presentation of a 271,677-name petition to Downing Street by Jamie Oliver, the TV chef, demanding better food for pupils.
The Education Secretary, who claimed the timing was "coincidence", said the extra money would allow schools to spend more on healthier food and improve the quality of catering staff.
"It's about training for chefs and catering staff at schools, it's about having the modern facilities and specialist help, and it's about having new school kitchens," she said.
Grants totalling pound;220m will go primarily to areas which spend the least on school meals. The remaining pound;60m will go towards establishing the School Food Trust.
Ms Kelly said she would not sanction an all-out ban on junk food and school vending machines but insisted the trust would be able to recommend which foods were appropriate.
The Confederation of Education and Children's Services Managers (Confed) welcomed the proposals but said they did not go far enough.
Chris Waterman, Confed's executive director, called on the Government to introduce "exclusion zones" around schools to stop fast-food vans targeting children at lunchtimes.
Viv Keller-Garnett, head of Ashby upper school, in north Leicestershire, said: "We know of vendors who travel to more than one school over the course of a lunchtime selling sweets and crisps. If the Government is serious about improving the diet of children and serious about getting value for money for this initiative, they have got to make sure that it cannot be undermined by the vendors."
It follows the release of a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research which revealed an earlier Labour scheme to provide every primary school child with a portion of fruit every day had failed to stop pupils snacking on sweets.
The NFER, which conducted interviews in 100 schools in the North and North-east, revealed that the consumption of snack foods has remained constant and boys still eat less fruit each day than girls.
Of 49 children questioned in one school, 33 said that they usually had crisps in their packed lunch, 13 regularly ate chocolate and 18 had fizzy drinks.
The Liberal Democrats also attacked the free fruit scheme after it was revealed that almost two-thirds of the fruit supplied is grown overseas.
Under the new scheme, minimum nutritional standards will be rolled out in schools from September, becoming mandatory from September 2006.
Parents can expect to be given a greater role in deciding what their children eat at school, kitchens will be refurbished and, from next month, catering staff can take a new vocational qualification to help them promote healthy food.
Speaking after handing in a petition to Number 10, Mr Oliver praised the funding package but said it was "20 years too late". He added: "What came out today will make a difference to every kid in this country and it is a positive difference."
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