A Scottish council has witnessed a dramatic drop in the number of pupils choosing to take a school meal since strict nutritional standards were introduced by the Scottish Government.
Highland Council estimated that between April and December last year they were serving up, on average, 1,000 school meals fewer per day than during the same period in 2007. This resulted in an annual drop of 200,000 meals and a loss of Pounds 463,600, it said, in what will be a worrying signal for other authorities.
In a report to the council's education, culture and sport committee, catering and cleaning manager Norma Murray, and health-promoting schools manager Louise Jones, said that, while it was anticipated that the Schools (Health Promotion Nutrition) (Scotland) Act would have an adverse effect on the uptake, "there seems to have been more impact than first expected".
They acknowledged that extraneous factors might have been at work, such as an increase in price and closures due to bad weather, strike action and falling rolls. Nevertheless, of the 200,000 drop in 2008, the council attributed 123,000 meals (two-thirds) to the impact of healthier school dinners.
A survey of pupils eating in school found they did so because of convenience, cost, choice and the cashless card system. In a survey of those seeking nourishment beyond school, they were doing so for much the same reasons - top dislikes being cost, choice, queuing, the environment and the card system. One pupil said: "I get two Lorne sausages, fried egg in a roll and bottle of juice for Pounds 1."
To tackle the issue, the council planned to launch a new marketing campaign; consult more with pupils; continue to promote healthy eating; improve dining hall ambience and roll out a cashless system.