Jamie's made a meal of dinners

PUBLISHED: 11:41 19 January 2006 | UPDATED: 11:27 04 May 2010

SCHOOL dinners are failing to cut the mustard with children after celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, dished the dirt on their health value. Since Jamie went on national television to stir up controversy over the junk food being served in some schools, Cambridg

SCHOOL dinners are failing to cut the mustard with children after celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, dished the dirt on their health value.

Since Jamie went on national television to stir up controversy over the junk food being served in some schools, Cambridgeshire pupils have been rejecting school dinners by the plate load.

It has left the catering service facing a massive £339,000 overspend as parents refuse to fork out for school meals, preferring instead to send their children with packed lunches.

Now county councillors, struggling to balance their books with a tight budget, could end up bailing out the service to make sure it survives.

County Labour leader, Cllr. Martin Ballard, the party's spokesman on children's services, said: "Whilst I support what Jamie Oliver is doing, it has given the school meals' service bad publicity and led to parents sending their children in with sandwiches.

"I am a whole-hearted supporter of feeding children well at school but the hard fact is that in some schools parents have withdrawn their children from school meals.

"The service has had a deficit for some time but the situation can't improve without spending more and parents would find it too expensive."

Cambridgeshire Catering Service, which provides meals to most schools in the county, operates as an independent trading organisation within the county council.

Just over 200 nursery, primary and special schools use the service with 15,000 meals provided a day compared with 18,000 a day four years ago. Parents pay £1.65 per day for their child to stay to school lunch.

Jamie's School Dinners was shown on Channel 4 and aimed to persuade schools to ditch processed ready meals and junk food and replace it with fresh, nutritious food prepared from scratch every day.

However, many of the schools in Cambridgeshire are not equipped with kitchens making it impossible for food to be prepared in-house.

Now the Government has urged county councils to make contributions towards school catering services.

But Cambridgeshire County Council is already struggling to make ends meet and has warned of cuts to services.

Cllr. Ballard added: "When we are looking at cutting old people's care at home it is not easy.

At the end of the day the service may have to be taken into the council and stop it trading as an independent unit. It may be the area of self-financing will become untenable."

Councillors are to hold a complete review of the service.

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman acknowledged that the overspend had been caused by the Jamie Oliver publicity.

But added: "However, the number of people taking school meals in Cambridgeshire is beginning to increase again and Cambridgeshire Catering Services are working hard on a recovery plan to turn around the service's finances.

"We are working with head teachers to encourage pupils to take advantage of the healthy meals which CCS provide. Our school meals have always met required nutrient standards and will continue to do so. The quality of our school meals will not be compromised and parents can be assured that all school meals in Cambridgeshire represent a healthy and nutritious option." .

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