WELSH parents are withdrawing their children from school meals in disgust after seeing poor quality food served to children in Jamie Oliver's latest hit TV series.
Local authorities are reporting that thousands of pupils are now bringing packed lunch into school and boycotting dinners - and they're saying Jamie's School Dinners is to blame.
Jamie has launched a campaign to rid schools of processed, unhealthy meals. Last night the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference voted in favour of anti-junk food in school.
Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said, "Realistically parents have got to make a big stand and hopefully Government will listen."
Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary, promised measures to improve school meals on Monday. However, yesterday conference delegates criticised her for simply "jumping on the bandwagon".
Mrs Morrissey said the boycott by parents in Wales "proves to us that parents are not satisfied with what's being offered and the onus is on the Government to quickly put some real money into school meals.
"Unless we as parents take drastic action, as parents in Wales have, this issue will just float by as another headline sensation.
"I really don't lay blame on the caterers because there are so many good people out there working for these companies, trying so hard to provide something good on a shoestring. But at the end of the day, unfortunately, parents have to do what they think is the best for their children."
However, Professor Kevin Morgan, director of Cardiff University's Regeneration Institute, who has done extensive research into school meals, described the parents' action as "a perverse and disastrous but short-term effect, I hope, of the Jamie Oliver television series."
He said, "It would appear that parents have become shocked at the appalling levels of processed foods in school meals but, perversely, by preventing their children from having school dinners and giving them a lunch box instead, they are giving them meals that are just as bad and, in some cases, worse."
Across Wales schools in Flintshire, Torfaen, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Cardiff have seen the uptake of school meals fall. Flintshire has a total of more than 25,000 school pupils on roll and said they had seen a drop in the numbers paying for meals by 2% in primary and 4% in secondary schools. RCT is also putting their noticeable drop down to the Jamie effect and Torfaen's figures have fallen by 1.37%.
In Cardiff the drop in primary meals served is "in the hundreds" according to a council spokesperson.
Sue Eakers, operational manager for catering services in Cardiff, said, "Channel 4's Jamie's School Dinners has had a profound impact on the public perception of the school meal. We have seen a drop in [the] number of primary meals served each day and we need to reassure parents that Cardiff meals are not like those featured in the TV programme.
"Here in Cardiff we already provide healthy, high-quality meals and we are very proud of it."
Free fruit is on offer and chips are only served once a week - beef burgers are still offered but they are made with organic meat and processed foods, and "shapes" are being phased out, she added.
Jamie Oliver said he was really excited about the attention his campaign was attracting.
"It is clear that we have hit a raw nerve with various people," he said, adding that he was waiting to find out the details of Government proposals before responding to them.
"With the election coming up the campaign has become political and rather than jumping into bed with either party I am just going to remain on the grass-roots level and be the voice for the dinner ladies, parents and kids," the celebrity chef said.
A spokesperson for the Local Authority Caterers Association, said the programme has had a "major impact on everybody, not least the Prime Minister."
"I can understand that some parents' perception is perhaps being distorted because of images from one authority in London and I think that was an extreme example.
"A lot of authorities now, Wales included, are trying to reduce or remove processed foods from their menus where they can. If schools are doing good work they should invite parents to try the meals. Most parents criticise school meals, but when was the last time they had one?
"The situation is about to change dramatically because it's reached such a high level of debate and we are pushing for greater investment by central government."
The Association added that the problem is exacerbated for some schools where kitchens have been turned into libraries or classrooms, making it virtually impossible to provide fresh, nutritious meals.
Prof Morgan added, "If the Jamie Oliver effect is to outlast the television series and be more positive and benign then we will have to see real resources going into school meals and see some real training opportunities in healthy eating on the part of the cooks and infrastructure changes to help school cooks engage in cooking from scratch.
"If the concern of the Labour government about the state of school dinners is to last beyond the general election then we need these three things to come from Ruth Kelly and Jane Davidson."