THE number of youngsters in the Capital eating school meals has jumped to its highest level in recent years.
New data suggests pupils shrugged off the horsemeat scandal and fears over chicken being shipped in from as far away as Thailand to chomp through nearly 2.5 million school meals in 2012-13 – an increase of more than 150,000 on the previous year and boosting overall uptake to nearly 30 per cent.
The rate in primary schools hit a five-year high of nearly 37 per cent – up from 35 per cent the previous year and 31 per cent in 2008-09. The increase comes despite the fact prices were hiked for the first time in several years in August, with the cost of a meal rising 5p to £1.80 at primary schools and £2.30 at secondaries.
City leaders also admitted that providing more school meals – 2.55 million were delivered in 2012-13, up 6.5 per cent on the previous year – may mean further price rises. They say this is due to the extra financial pressure created by delivering each additional meal – around 71p for primaries and £1.15 for high schools.
The jump in consumption has been welcomed by parents. Emma Conroy of Edinburgh Nutrition, whose children, Heather, six, and Sophie, four, attend Flora Stevenson Primary, said: “One of the main drivers causing parents to opt for school meals is time – the preparation time needed to make a packed lunch every morning is a lot.
“There are some menus I am fine with and others I’m not quite so enthusiastic about. But I would agree there’s now so much more awareness in schools of how important food is.”
Uptake figures were highest in Edinburgh’s primary and special schools, where the proportion of those opting for canteen food rose to around 37 and 70 per cent respectively.
Education leaders are to press ahead with measures to make the service more innovative, including a “grab and go” pre-ordering system and moves to boost use of seasonal, organic and local food.
Critics said city leaders still had a lot to do to make school meals “attractive and affordable”. Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and food spokeswoman for the Scottish Greens, said: “Ensuring our young people get good quality balanced meals during school hours is absolutely essential.
“More must be done to make school meals the attractive, affordable option.
“I’m also concerned that Edinburgh is still relying on complex supply chains. You’d think the horsemeat scandal would have prompted a rethink.”
She added: “The Food for Life scheme being piloted is a great example and it’s disappointing that a report on its roll-out, which was due in October, won’t now go before councillors until March.”
Education leaders welcomed the new figures but admitted there was still “much more to do”.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “We have set ourselves a target of introducing Food for Life accreditation at all of our schools, with an action plan to do this to be published in March.”
‘My two are certainly happy’
MOTHER-OF-TWO Kim Nicoll’s children – Finlay, eight, and Jude, six – both attend Stockbridge Primary, where they enjoy school meals.
She said evidence of the service’s growing popularity across the Capital came as no surprise. “I would have thought this will have been a pupil choice,” she said. “The children are getting the choice of a nice hot meal as opposed to a cold packed lunch.
“My two are certainly happy. The fact that the school meals at Stockbridge are cooked on the premises means they are fresh – and it’s a good thing that the kids can sit down and chat to their friends while they’re eating. It makes it more sociable.”