Ban packed lunches, head teachers urged

 

Petchey Academy in London has banned packed lunches

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Head teachers in England are being urged to ban packed lunches to increase the take-up of school dinners and promote healthy eating.

A government-commissioned school food review by two founders of the Leon restaurant chain says take-up is low at 43% despite huge quality improvements.

Packed lunches are nearly always less nutritious than a cooked meal, say the authors of the School Food Plan.

Revised food-based standards are to be tested and introduced from 2014.

These are likely to replace the extremely stringent guidelines which control the regularity with which food groups and processed items are offered.

The report describes the process by which they are applied as a "finnicky" one and claims staff need to use a computer program to implement them.

It added: "Many caterers told us they spent hours fiddling about with recipes trying to make the computer say 'yes', only to see children make a mockery of their efforts by assembling a plate full of food that looks nothing like their efforts."

The new standards will be applied them to maintained schools and all new academies and free schools, the Department for Education said.

Head teachers are also being urged to lower the price of lunches to boost take-up. This might include providing subsidised meals for reception classes in primary schools and Year 7 classes in secondary schools, the report says.

And there are calls for free meals to be extended to all primary schools, starting in the most deprived areas of England. The government says it will investigate the case for extending free school meals entitlement.

School dinners The review found most schools provide good quality meals

The Department for Education ordered the review by restaurateurs Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent into the state of school meals in 2012 following strong criticism from TV chef Jamie Oliver, who earlier led a successful campaign to ban junk and processed food from school canteens.

This resulted in tight nutritional guidelines and healthy eating policies in many schools for those bringing packed lunches.

But in 2011 he claimed that standards were being eroded because academies and free schools were exempt from national nutritional guidelines.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "What I'd like to see is more children eating school lunches and fewer having packed lunches, and more children feeling healthier and more energetic throughout the day."

'Turkey twizzler'

Start Quote

While encouraging all students to eat a nutritious hot lunch is the right aim, it is not always feasible”

End Quote Brian Lightman ASCL general secretary

Mr Dimbleby told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that school food had improved since the "dark days of the turkey twizzler," but that the proportion of children eating school meals was not high enough.

He stressed that more than half of children brought packed lunches into schools but that around two-thirds contained crisps or confectionery.

"The best schools, the schools with good food, find ways of making packed lunches the least exciting option," he added.

If packed lunches were banned, schools would be able to provide better meals at a cheaper price, and this would help boost children's performance, he argued.

Packed lunches are understood to be banned in just a very small number of schools, but the DfE insists it is possible and that many schools do not realise that.

Mr Dimbleby later told reporters: "I would ban packed lunches if it was my school but I think there are other ways. There's a strong libertarian streak in the English and some head teachers might think that's a battle they don't want to fight."

The review suggests that items such as sugary drinks, crisps and confectionery be forbidden from lunch boxes. In reality many schools already have healthy packed lunch policies banning such items.

General secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers Russell Hobby said he felt it probably was not feasible for schools to ban packed lunches.

Obesity rates

He thought it was right, instead, to focus on making school meals more attractive in terms of cost and access as well as nutritional content, taste and presentation.

He added: "It is hard for students to concentrate on learning when they haven't eaten enough or when they've eaten the wrong things. The benefits from investing in decent cooked meals are huge: better learning and better habits later in life; a calm and sociable lunch hall also sets a tone for the rest of the day."

The Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Brian Lightman added: "While encouraging all students to eat a nutritious hot lunch is the right aim, it is not always feasible. Many hardworking families on relatively low incomes give their children packed lunches because they don't qualify for free school meals and the cost of a school dinner would be prohibitive."

Labour said exempting academies had allowed junk food to "creep back" into schools and it urged the government to enforce food standards across the board.

Leon founder Henry Dimbleby: "We do need to make packed lunch the less attractive option"

Shadow children's minister Sharon Hodgson said when the country was in the middle of a childhood obesity crisis, it was important that schools were doing their part to improve diets.

"Labour vastly improved the quality of school food after Jamie Oliver's important campaign."

But she accused David Cameron and Michael Gove of deliberately undermining that progress by exempting academies and free schools from Labour's rules.

Labour also pointed out that academies and free schools set up between 2010 and Jan 2014 would be under no obligation to sign up to the food standards

Wonderful pies

Other recommendations include: After-school cooking lessons for parents and children, more schools to have stay-on-site rules for break and lunch time, and for teachers to be encouraged to sit in the dining hall with children. And there is to be a £16m cash injection to boost the take-up of meals.

The report comes as the obesity rate among children at the end of primary school has risen to almost one in five.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, said all children in poverty should receive a free school meal and urged the government to use its planned consultation on the future of free school meals to make sure no child in poverty misses out.

Linda Cregan, head of the Children's Food Trust, said: "The pledge of funding to give thousands of schools practical help with increasing take up is very welcome, as is investment to create new breakfast clubs in places where children are in greatest need.

"At a time when so many families on low incomes are struggling with the costs of food, we look forward to progress on the commitments to look at extending free school meals to more children and the call for universal free school meals in all primary schools."

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 26.

    Never thought I would say this, but if the next election was fought over the single issue of schools & education, I would vote Labour.

    The Tory education 'policy' is a hotchpotch of half baked, ill-conceived, expensive and divisive pet projects. All their advisers seem to advise based on their own business advantage. They identify an opening for profit and advise accordingly.

    It's corruption.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 25.

    How about before we start forcing school dinners on people, we actually force the school cafeterias to provide something other than 3 day old mince that tastes of sweat, some soggy chips and peas boiled so hard they have the nutritional value of cardboard. Because clearly that's healthier than a sandwich and a box of sliced fruit/salad, right?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 24.

    Teach the kids how to cook and they will re-educate their parents.
    It used to be called 'domestic science'.
    Or are basic life-skills not 'Oxbridge' enough?

  • rate this
    +56

    Comment number 23.

    Two thirds of lunchboxes contain crisps....

    ... SO WHAT!!!!!!

    My 6 year old nephew had his ham sandwich confiscated because his teacher thought "processed food" is unhealthy. A GP wouldn't have the right to do this, much less a primary school teacher. This is going way too far.

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 22.

    Of course mass produced food would always be better than home produced food. It would never be contaminated by anything like horses!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 21.

    The lunch that I make would be a lot more healthier than the one that they provide. They should not tar everyone with the same stick.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 20.

    If the problem is with crisps and confectionery then why not ban them from lunch boxes? I would object to my child being forced to take schools meals when I could provide them a healthy, balanced lunch.

    How about you educate parents on healthy packed lunches and provide balanced meals, fruit and veg to those that cannot afford them?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 19.

    How much does a school lunch cost?
    How much does it cost to prepare a fresh sandwich, a piece of fruit and a bar of something fun that the kid likes to have, too?

    I just love the way that all the academies, and the 'free' schools can just ignore this rubbish. If Gove isn't too careful, he'll paint himself into a corner one day, and realise that there aren't any schools left that have to listen!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 18.

    So parents who dont bother with diet will get more free via our tax. Judging by the shopping trollies filled with sweets,crisps,biscuits, cakes,ready meals all it will mean is these people will spend more on this type of food. With Jamie Olivers program parents were throwing over chips,burgers to their children at lunch time. These MPs are not in the real world as their meals are subsidise/free

  • rate this
    +60

    Comment number 17.

    Are they going to ban the force feeding of Halal meat to the children at the same time, as this is what most meat in school diners is these days

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 16.

    I see no problem in encouraging children to eat school meals,as long as those with allergies & those with other requirements are catered for.as long as the option is still available for parents to send in packed lunches.at my high school,I went home &had soup& bread for lunch, I am over weight because I would go to the vending machines and have loads of sweets.not because my meals were bad

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 15.

    A sign of modern times in the UK, fat parents and fat kids. we are all educated enough to know what is good and bad for us. Live and let die, we make our choice but some parents care more than others. .

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    People who don't feed there kids will greet this as good news.

    People who look after their kids will greet this as a step too far.

    This suits the poor, the way the government is going they might as well take the kids off them at birth.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 13.

    So they want to ban packed lunches, and lock kids inside schools at lunchtime?

    Why do they think they own our kids?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 12.

    a typical school dinner for me (c1985) was a plate of chips with tomato sauce and mayonnaise, a 0.5l glass of cherryade and a sugared doughnut with cream and jam on the top. [nostalgic sigh]

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 11.

    Speaking as a former Chair of Governors.

    We were forced by the LA to convert the kitchens into teaching facilities even though we wanted to provide hot meals. We had to import warm meals prepared several hours earlier at a school several miles away. The quality was awful but there was nothing we could do.

    For a lot of children, packed lunches were the best option.

  • rate this
    +77

    Comment number 10.

    I other news, the Leon restaurant chain bid for lucrative government school lunch scheme.

  • rate this
    +86

    Comment number 9.

    If the school dinners are that brilliant, people will choose those over packed lunches. You cannot force parents to feed their children what a school dictates. Halal, vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant, peanut allergies. Michael Gove needs to wake up and think these ideas through a little more before putting his hand up to speak.

  • rate this
    +113

    Comment number 8.

    Unbelievably patronising and absurd nanny state interference. My kids get healthy packed lunches and hot meals in the evenings at home, and will continue to do so.

    Oi government - get out of my life!

  • rate this
    +74

    Comment number 7.

    I couldn't care less if chavs are feeding their fat kids on crisps & chocolate bars. However, I do care that the state is telling me that I can't send my kids to school with a lunchbox containing brown bread sandwiches, fruit & salad!

 

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