Blair ready to back Jamie's healthy meals for schools

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Jamie Oliver's attempts to spark a culinary revolution in the classroom look like bearing fruit as the Government has revealed that it is poised to back plans for organic meals in the nation's school dinning halls.

Jamie Oliver's attempts to spark a culinary revolution in the classroom look like bearing fruit as the Government has revealed that it is poised to back plans for organic meals in the nation's school dinning halls.

As a result of the television series Jamie's School Dinners, there has been a clamour among parents for a dramatic improvement of what is offered to their children. It now appears that their calls will be answered, with the Prime Minister promising new equipment and training for dinner ladies.

The days of reheated greasy pies and soggy chips could be numbered, as the school dinner shake-up sought by Oliver on the Channel 4 gets Tony Blair's backing.

An independent School Food Trust will be set up to usher in an era of healthy eating. In an interview published today, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the new body would build upon "the remarkable work of Jamie Oliver in schools and of the Soil Association in encouraging the use of organic and local produce in school meals".

It is understood that Mr Blair was particularly impressed with the work of the Soil Association, which set up a scheme in Gloucestershire to show how children can be fed cheaply and quickly on organic, locally produced meals.

But it is the success of Oliver's television series that has brought the issue of standards in school meals to the public's attention.

In the four-part series, which ended last week, Oliver marched into the dinning hall of a comprehensive in Greenwich, south London, and set about ditching the burgers in favour of balsamic beef stew.

Success did not come instantly, though. Some parents initially found Oliver's talk of tomatoes and lettuce difficult to digest. Suddenly, twice as many pupils were carrying in lunches packed with chocolate bars and fizzy drinks as the dining hall ditched their favourites.

But many came round, and some headteachers in the area are calling for the lunchboxes of those who opt out of school dinners to be scrutinised.

As a result of the programme, more than 100,000 people signed a petition as part of Oliver's Feed Me Better campaign, which calls for low-fat, healthy meals to be made available in the country's schools. Mr Blair will meet the celebrity chef soon to discuss the proposals and Oliver's dinning hall experiences.

The Prime Minister has even suggested that school kitchens be rebuilt as part of the £9.4bn school-building programme announced in the Budget. He hopes such a move will help dinner ladies prepare the type of high-quality meals that parents want, to improve their children's health. The new diet drive is expected to cost £300m a year, less than 1 per cent of the education budget.

Writing in The Observer today, Mr Blair said: "It may take a little time to change children's tastes, but it will be worth the effort if we can get them enjoying healthy and good quality food at school.

"I don't believe for a moment that parents will see such measures as unnecessary interference in their lives, but rather what they expect from a responsible government."

Oliver has already discussed plans to improve children's eating habits with Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education. In response to Mr Blair's article, he called for action to swiftly follow the Government's pledges.

"I think the Government should use the knowledge from the people who have already worked on a grass-roots level: the dinner ladies deserve all the support they can get to make change," he said.

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