Source AP ©

Few british students sign up for improved healthier meals

We don't like it! 

Jamie Oliver's quest to eliminate junk food from British school children's diets showed signs of faltering Monday as figures indicated fewer students are signing up for improved, healthier meals.

Celebrity chef Oliver inspired the government to set new nutritional standards for school meals - but the kids aren't buying it.

More than 424,000 students opted out of their school meal plans in the first two years of the program, according to government figures obtained by the opposition Liberal Democrats.

The figures show a 17 percent drop among secondary school students (aged 11-18) and a 9.6 percent drop among primary school pupils (aged 5-11) since the 2004-2005 school year. Students who opt out must either pack their own lunch or buy it elsewhere.

The British government has warned that one in six British children is obese and that could rise to half of all children by 2050.

Oliver's TV series, "Jamie's School Dinners," exposed how school cafeteria menus relied on prepared foods like chicken nuggets or the turkey twizzler - a corkscrew of mainly reconsituted turkey scraps and preservatives. Both items were usually served with piles of fatty french-fried potatoes at a cost of 37 pence (66 U.S. cents, 55 euro cents) per child per meal.

Oliver on Monday urged parents and the government to stay committed to the program.

"I'm still committed to it, but really over the next five years we'll see that negative turn into a positive," he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"We have to be philosophical, we have to keep supporting it," he said. "We have to know and do what's best for our kids."

The School Food Trust, which the government set up in 2005 to help schools improve food quality, confirmed the numbers had dropped, but said the trend was part of a decline that began before the government committed to spending 280 million pounds two years ago toward improving meals.

Sample menus for the new program include meals such as vegetarian quiche, lentil burgers and mushroom tagliatelle.

"The School Food Trust was very realistic when we began the transformation of school meals, we were always anticipating a drop," the agency said in a statement.

No "parent, caterer or head teacher would disagree that with increasing levels of type two diabetes, heart disease and obesity, something had to be done," the statement said.

One factor in the drop may be children's reluctance to change their eating habits, spokesman Brian Dow said.

"This is a major cultural shift in children's attitudes, in five years time I think we will see significant growth," Dow told BBC television. "Gradually, children will get used to it."

School caterers say they support the program's aims, but believe the changes may be too extreme.

"We believe that such radical changes to young peoples dietary habits are too draconian and the speed of their introduction is too fast," the Local Authority Caterers Association said in a July report.

The fresher ingredient requirements mean the average primary school meal price has risen 20 percent since 2003 to 1.64 pounds (US$3.88; 2.43 EUR), the association said. More than 91 percent of school caterer says they are now breaking even or losing money, compared to 2003 when all caterers were profitable.

In addition to rising prices and students' reluctance to give up burgers for lentils, the Liberal Democrats said Oliver's program may have hurt school meal plans. By shining a spotlight on what goes into school dinners, the party said in a statement, programs like Oliver's may have undermined parents and students' confidence in school meals.