More than 4,400 people have signed a petition calling for continued government investment and support for the nation's school meals services, as part of the School Meals Matter ](http://www.caterersearch.com/landing-pages/school-meals-matter/)(SMM) campaign by Caterer and Hotelkeeper, in collaboration with the [Local Authority Caterers Association](http://www.laca.co.uk/) (LACA).
Caterer editor Mark Lewis and LACA chair Beverley Baker delivered the signed petitions to Westminster on the same day that LACA sent letters to MPs stressing the importance of the school meals service for the health of the next generation.
The School Lunch Grant is scheduled to end in March 2011 and the Government has made no pledge to continue it.
Baker said: "It is imperative that the Government continues to invest in the service so that caterers can sustain quality and ensure that prices remain affordable for parents.
"With evidence that healthier school meals are contributing to improved learning and behaviour, it would be short-sighted for any government to pull the plug on funding now."
She said the food eaten in school could help improve children's health, reduce obesity and cut the cost to the NHS. "Surely cutting any funding to the school meals service would be one cut too many, and too big a price to pay in terms of the future health and prosperity of this nation," Baker added.
The SMM campaign was launched earlier this year in order to ensure that all the hard work undertaken to transform the school meals service in the past five years is not undone by any reduction in funding from the government.
Last month saw the publication of the School Meals Survey by LACA and the [School Food Trust,](http://www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk/) which revealed that the take-up of school lunches had increased in both primary and secondary schools for the first time in five years.
When we joined forces with LACA to launch our School Meals Matter campaign back in February, our stated aim was to call on the winning party at May's General Election to make a firm commitment to the continuation of the school meal service.
Three months into its term of office, the coalition Government has made no such commitment. We await a decision on any extension of the school lunch grant, which is scheduled to end in March 2011; and a pilot scheme offering free school meals in certain regions of the UK has been reined in.
Last week's delivery of the campaign petition forms you signed in your thousands sent a clear signal to Westminster that you believe that school meals are good for the health of the nation, and good for the hospitality industry.
They are good for the nation because they support children in achieving their full physical and mental potential, and help drive down the cost to the NHS of diet-related illness. And they are good for the industry because they encourage children to engage with food and cooking, and thereby seed future generations of hospitality workers and customers.
We must hope that the secretary of state for education pays heed to our collective voice and ring-fences adequate funding for the continuation of the school meals service.
CHILDHOOD OBESITY IN ENGLAND
â- Almost a third (31%) of all children between the ages of two and 10 are overweight or obese
â- More than a third of children aged 11-15 years (35.1%) are overweight or obese
â- Experts predict that, left unchecked, obesity will cost the UK economy £50b a year by 2050
Source: Millennium Cohort Study 2007; Foresight Report, 2007
[Join the Table Talk debate: Are we undoing the hard work of the past five years? ](http://www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk/forums/school-meals-are-in-danger-of-undoing-the-hard-5907.aspx#7300)
By Janie Stamford
E-mail your comments to Janie Stamfor here.
If you have something to say on this story or anything else join the debate at Table Talk - Caterer's new networking forum. Go to www.caterersearch.com/tabletalk
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Caterersearch.com jobs