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More children eating school dinners

More than three million children are now eating school dinners, as the numbers continue to soar, according to new figures.

An extra 167,000 pupils took up the meals in 2011/12, compared to the year before, data published by the Children's Food Trust reveals.

It is the fourth year running that the numbers of youngsters eating school lunches has risen.

In total, almost half of England's primary school pupils on average (46.3%) had school dinners this year, up 2.2% on 2010/11. In England's secondary schools, nearly two-fifths (39.8%) took up the meals on average, also up 2.2% on the year before.

It means that overall, the equivalent to almost 3.3 million pupils were eating school dinners this year.

As the number of pupils eating school meals has gone up, the price of a dinner has also risen. Youngsters are now paying an extra five pence on average for their lunch, according to the new figures based on a survey of local authorities, conducted by the Children's Food Trust. A meal now costs £1.98 on average, compared to £1.93 a year ago.

The poll shows that of the nearly 3.3 million youngsters eating school dinners, just over one million are on free school meals - a key measure of poverty. It also reveals that since 2008/09, almost half a million more children have switched from bringing packed lunches to school to eating school dinners.

Trust chairman Rob Rees said: "Our school canteens have the potential to be such powerhouses for children's health and their performance at school - as long as schools, cooks and caterers get the support they need to keep this progress going.

"If a child eats in their school dining room every day, that's hundreds of chances to help that child eat well - on top of the fact that simply by having a better meal inside them at lunchtime, children learn better in their afternoon lessons.

"With more of them eating school meals, it's more important than ever to make sure the food they get tastes good, gives them the nutrition they need and that they have an experience which makes them want to go back for more."

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