MORE of Tayside’s youngsters are eating school dinners — after a scheme was introduced to offer the youngest pupils free meals.
Now, school catering bosses have revealed how they plan to take on high street outlets in a bid to keep those numbers rising.
A new report by Tayside Contracts, which runs the school catering operation in Dundee, Angus and Perth & Kinross, shows a rise of nearly 20% in the number of children in both primaries and secondaries eating school meals at lunchtime.
In the first part of this school year, more than two million meals were eaten by kids across the region — compared with about 1.7 million over the same time last year.
The increase was highest in primary schools, where up to 40% more kids are eating in school at lunchtime.
But there’s still work to be done in secondary schools, where the numbers have either dropped or seen only a small rise in some parts of Tayside.
A review of the service is under way, according to Iain Waddell, managing director of Tayside Contracts.
He said: “It should be noted that factors will continue to fluctuate year on year. These include school rolls and free meal entitlement.
“Given this backdrop, it is encouraging to note that the underlying trend in overall meal uptake continues to be one of growth.”
But he added: “A full-scale review of the lunch service in secondary schools is currently being conducted.
“This review forms part of Tayside Contracts’ commitment to providing a service that can compete with the less healthy options available on the high street.
“The review will also strive to arrest, and ideally reverse, the current general downward trend in secondary school meal uptake.
“The review will be on a school-by-school basis and will address all aspects of the service from the dining environment and style of
service to the menu options available.”
In Dundee, there was an increase of more than 30% in the number of primary school kids taking up meals.
Mr Waddell said: “Meals uptake in primary schools is positive against both budget and the previous year.
“The significant improvement against the previous year is due to the introduction of free meals for P1-3 in January 2015.”
Two-thirds of kids in the city’s primary schools are entitled to free meals — and about two-thirds of those actually take up the option.
More than 500,000 school meals were eaten in Dundee over the three-month period.
In Angus, the rise in primary schools was about 20%.
However, thousands fewer school meals were eaten in secondary schools.
The number of older kids eating meals dropped from 195,087 to 173,180.
Mr Waddell said the slide was “largely due to a substantial decrease in the school roll since the previous year”.
He added: “The five secondary school mobile units in Angus achieved an average weekly uptake of 2,63 meals.”
The biggest positives came at Perth & Kinross schools, where the meal uptake rose in both primaries and secondaries.
Among the younger age group, 444,487 ate a school lunch over the period, compared to just 316,724 the year before. The rise in secondary schools was lower, but still significant, from about 114,000 to nearly 134,000 — a hike of 10%.
Free school meals were introduced on January 7 for all pupils in Scotland in primaries one to three.
The uptake by those entitled to them ranges between 70% and 80% across Tayside.
Pupils whose parents receive certain benefits are also entitled to free meals.