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The LACA/ParentPay Market Research Report on School Meals and Daily Life Issues 2012

Poll shows 92% of parents back food standards for all schools

Research conducted by LACA and ParentPay, published today at the start of National School Meals Week 2012, reveals that the majority of parents (92%) want to see all schools – whether state maintained, academies or free schools – abiding by a set of nutritional standards laid down by Government for school food.

They also say they want to see an independent body to monitor schools to ensure the standards are met.  

The poll findings also show parental backing for many of Jamie Oliver’s School Meal Manifesto ideas.

The celebrity chef said: “It’s blatantly clear from the outcome of the LACA/ParentPay survey – which is a direct representation of what busy parents in this day and age actually think – what a humungous impact health has on our lives.

“I just hope that they show the results to Mr Gove and that he does something positive with the data”.

With more than 12,000 parents responding to the 2012 Survey, this year’s poll is the biggest of its kind to date into parental views of school food services and lifestyles.

The survey found that while parents might want all schools to be compliant with nutritional standards, awareness of whether their own child’s school currently abides by them was low.

Less than half (41%) said they knew that their child’s school was meeting them and a greater proportion (57%) said they did not know.

State maintained schools have been required to follow nutritional standards by law since 2008-2009, while academies and free schools are expected by the Government to comply with them voluntarily.

Interestingly, 92% of academy parents said they, too, want to see all schools legally required to abide by nutritional standards.

But as with state maintained school parents, they did not know if their child’s school was currently following the standards.

Concern over the risk to improvements in school meals over recent years resulted in this becoming the subject of a major campaign earlier this year by LACA, other industry bodies and Jamie Oliver.

The aim was to persuade the Government to amend legislation to make the standards applicable to all schools.

Meanwhile, an even greater number of parents than in last year’s survey indicated their satisfaction with school meals. Just over 90% were very happy or happy with the service, compared to 89% last year. And nearly three quarters (72%) put the quality of the food as the most important criteria when buying a school meal.

An overwhelming majority of 88% said service delivery was meeting or exceeding their expectations.

The findings of the LACA/ParentPay Survey have been underpinned by the views of children identified in separate studies carried out by frozen food manufacturer, Birds Eye.

The key to achieving parental satisfaction with school meals is ensuring they actually meet consumer needs. Birds Eye’s focus groups with children revealed that higher repeat selection of meals occurred if key factors were taken into account.

These included making sure ingredients children deemed as ‘nasties’ were made undetectable; that popular food choices were offer, especially if they were similar to those served at home; foods with a consistent colour and texture were available; and children were allowed to choose.

Despite economic pressures, school meals are still seen as affordable by parents, with 87% stating value for money was a key persuading factor in buying them. The average cost of a school meal was found to be just £2.

With reports of poverty rising in the UK, parents say they are having to work longer and the current economic climate is putting a strain on the ability to even provide essentials like food.

Anecdotal reports that more children are arriving at school hungry and unable to concentrate in morning lessons are backed by survey findings, with 6.2% of parents saying their children leave home without breakfast. A further quarter (25%) want breakfast provision at school.

Parents also cast their votes on some of Jamie Oliver’s ideas to improve school meals in his recent School Meals manifesto, with 73% agreeing that secondary students up to 16 should be kept on school premises at lunchtimes for their own safety and to prevent visits to local takeaways and shops.

And 96% say schools should operate staggered lunch breaks to reduce queueing and to allow young people to more easily access food options in school.

This year’s findings show parents are highly aware of the link between food and good health. On average, parents say they or a family member cook with their child nearly five time (4.7) a week using fresh or raw ingredients.

Although they cook regularly at home with their children, 98% also want children to be taught to cook as part of the national curriculum and that it should include education on where food comes from and when food is in season.

Although almost all parents (97%) claimed they had sufficient information about the link between food and good health, nearly half (46%) still said that if they had better information it would be benefit their family.

Among other poll findings, 82% want to pay on line for school meals, with convenience given as the top reason, while knowing the money is spent on school meals was important for 75% of parents.

And 38% of parents said they did not get enough information about their child’s school meals, only a quarter (26%) said they received information on the link between food and good health from their child’s school.

The key motivators behind preparing a meal at home were ‘foods they like’ (73%), the availability of time to cook (68%) and whether the meal contributed to the family’s five a day quota of fruit and veg (59%) Despite this, children’s consumption of fruit and vegetable portions has only marginally increased from 3.25 in 2011 to 3.3 in 2012.

Commenting on the findings, Clint Wilson, Chief Executive, ParentPay said:  “Of the 81.7% of parents wanting to pay online, 62.3% attributed this to knowing money is spent on a healthy school meal, rather than on sweets on the way to school.

“With 92% wanting Government standards in all schools, parents clearly recognise the importance of a healthy school meal to their children’s health.

“The fact that one in three parents wants to see more information about school meals online, reinforces that parents remain engaged with this important issue.

“School meals are one of our most powerful weapons in fighting childhood obesity – that puts school catering staff on the front line in tackling public health issues.

“Knowing that 91% of parents are happy with school meals means we must be getting it right. What we need now is for the Government to support this agenda with the same conviction as the industry and the same passion as our parents.”

Anne Bull, LACA National Chair said:  “Over one thousand more parents took the time and trouble to respond to this year’s survey, compared to last year.

“This increase gives a significant indication of the level of importance parents place on both their children’s health and wellbeing and the provision of healthy, nutritious food in their children’s schools.

“There was almost unanimous agreement on many key questions.  Parents are clear they do not want to see support for their school catering services being undermined by any lack of financial or policy support.

“They are sending out a clear message about their future expectations for school food provision. While much has been achieved as a result of the hard work of schools and caterers, additional measures to enhance this progress, would help children and young people achieve their potential, both academically and physically.”

David Foad
The LACA/ParentPay Market Research Report on School Meals and Daily Life Issues 20121.84 MB