School dinners may be the butt of countless jokes, but serving them up has become a deadly serious business worth more than Pounds 1 billion a year.
Since the early 1980s, private companies have been fighting for more and more of that pot of gold.
Castle View Services Ltd, the second biggest player in the school catering market after Initial, has been in the field since 1982. Today Castle View is feeding children in 1,200 schools, and has built up a turnover approaching Pounds 50 million a year - 4 per cent of the Pounds 1.25bn market.
It was compulsory competitive tendering which allowed private firms to move in on school dinners, and although New Labour has proposed relaxing the requirements on local authorities to contract services out, Castle View's marketing director Barbara Copland is unconcerned.
"Because of their financial restraints, local authorities will continue to look at the services provided by contractors," she says.