IT appears that celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's award-winning "healthy" school dinners campaign may not be everybody's cup of tea.

In fact, some schools in Redbridge have noticed a sharp decline in school meal uptake since healthier menus were introduced last year.

A Redbridge Council scrutiny committee working party has discovered that while school meals in the borough are becoming healthier, there is an ongoing battle to convince children to eat them.

Statistics show that although school dinner uptake in the borough is 69 per cent compared with a national average of 34 per cent, the percentage is falling in some schools as pupils reject the new menus.

There are also fears that children could be turning to poor quality packed lunches, instead of healthy school meals.

The report was presented to Redbridge's children's services scrutiny committee on Tuesday. Committee chairman Cllr John Fairley-Churchill said: "It is a question of providing a good nutritional balance. If you forbid chips, children will not like it.

"You can't force children to eat healthy food, it is a continual education.

You have to convince children there are exciting things to eat that are not junk food. The Jamie Oliver experience shows that if you educate children about food they will listen to you."

Schools in Redbridge have made a number of moves to try to create healthier meals. Biscuits have been removed as a dessert option and replaced with fruit pots, which are either cut or chopped fresh fruit selections.

Salad is now a daily option, alongside a vegetable choice.

Schools can also request to serve only milk and water, and there is now no added salt to any food cooked in the borough.

The changes were made as a result of the introduction of a Redbridge Food in Schools Programme, and a Food in Schools steering group makes regular contact with the borough caterers to discuss the content of new menus.

At present, 95 per cent of the meals at Redbridge's 74 schools are provided by external caterers. All primary schools and three secondary schools have food provided by Initial Catering Services, while the majority of the remaining secondary schools have contracts with Scholarest.

The borough contract with Initial is until 2009, and in recent years, dissatisfaction grew among headteachers, pupils and parents that the original contract guidelines did not enforce food standards effectively.

A headteacher and council officer group was set up to address the situation, and as a result of this, improvements have been made.

Schools are also developing their own schemes. There is one school which is trialling a freshly prepared' meal at an extra 21p per meal.

Others have carried out some very successful work around healthier packed lunches. Gearies Infants School pupils have produced a leaflet with ideas for healthy packed lunches.

Cleveland Junior School has worked with parents and pupils to produce very healthy lunches with crisps and cakes only allowed on a Monday or Friday.

And Fullwell Primary School sends a Healthy Schools newsletter home on a regular basis with ideas and recipes for inclusion in a packed lunch.

Mr Fairley-Churchill said: We have looked at the suggestions, and hopefully we will implement them.

"Standards in school dinners have improved considerably recently, but it is a slow process. We are working well with food contractors to get a set standard, but you are fighting against a junk food culture."