THE PRICE of school meals for thousands of schoolchildren in Hampshire has been frozen for the fourth year running.

But parents in Southampton will have to wait until later this year to see if they face a price hike in September.

Councillor Roy Perry, chief of children’s services at the county council, has pegged the price at £2 for both primary and secondary schools for the next 12 months.

Cllr Perry said: “I am mindful that we are living in difficult economic times so I hope this news is welcomed by parents.

“The high take-up has enabled us to hold the price for the fourth year in a row and in my view these meals are excellent value for money.”

But no decision has yet been taken on whether to increase the price of school meals in Southampton.

A council spokesman said a decision would be made later this year.

Currently, primary school pupils in Southampton pay £1.90 per meal and secondary children £2.10.

Hampshire school catering chiefs say take-up has improved steadily year-on-year and has now reached a record high.

More than four out of ten primary pupils have a school meal five days a week.

Food and other catering costs have risen, but a larger take-up means it is possible to make economies on a large scale.

The school meals service is not subsidised by the county council and usually makes a profit.

School catering chiefs in Hampshire and Southampton say school meals play a vital part in child nutrition and teaching healthy eating while helping to tackle child obesity.

Well-fed children are also more likely to concentrate in the classroom, boosting educational achievement.

In Hampshire, chips are still on the menu once a week, but there are also roast dinners twice a week, chilli meatballs, home-made pizza and fish on Fridays.

For vegetarians, choices include sweet potato and lentil curry and Italian tomato pasta.

Locally-sourced ingredients include Hampshire beef and pork, free range eggs from the New Forest and apple juice from Selbourne.

In Southampton, the school meals service is run by City Catering.

It also provides a healthy, well-balanced menu with vegetarian options.