Rising numbers of pupils are eating school dinners, official figures have shown.
More than two-fifths of primary school children and a third of secondary school pupils are opting for school meals.
Figures show an average of 44.1% of children in primary schools and 37.6% of pupils in secondary school ate school meals in 2010/11, a rise from 41.4% and 35.8%, respectively, in the previous year.
More than three million children in England are now eating meals at school, said a spokeswoman.
The figures, compiled from information provided by 129 local authorities in England, showed that 173,000 more pupils were taking school lunch compared to the previous year.
The increased figure comes from children taking both paid-for and free meals, according to an annual report commissioned by the School Food Trust and the Local Authority Caterers Association.
The number has surged despite a rising cost of meals. The average cost each day was £1.93, a rise of 5p from the previous year.
School Food Trust chairman Rob Rees said: "If we're going to keep school meal numbers rising, we have to keep healthy school meals affordable.
"That means helping schools to grow their market, to get the best deals for their food supplies and services, to protect their kitchens and dining rooms and to operate their catering services efficiently.
"With more children registering for free school meals, we've also got to make sure that we continue to encourage more children to take them up. At a time when funding is so tight everywhere, good school food is a solid investment in children's learning and health."