Ban packed lunches, head teachers urged


Petchey Academy in London has banned packed lunches

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Didn't communist China do this?

    Surely all school uniforms should be grey.

    Every child should have the same haircut.

    Also babies should only be given approved names.

    Every child will be allowed the same toy at Christmas.

    This nanny state seems to have no end.

    Come on people stand up for your rights!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    Our household food bill is around £650 a month, including healthy packed lunches 4 out of 5 days a week for my kids.

    If i changed to giving them school dinners each day my school lunchtime bill would be £230 a month alone.

    Are the people who make these ideas up complete morons?

    It is more expensive and if you see my earlier comment with today's menu, often cheap processed rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    @325. "because a few idiot mothers give their children peanut snacks to take into school despite having been told it could be life threatening."

    It's about time we get to the root of this and demand the pharmaceuticals remove peanut oil from their vaccines, to stop leaving some of us with immunity/allergies to peanuts. Peanut allergies only arose after Merck added first Peanut Oil in an adjuvant

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    As a single dad, I don't think I would be able to afford £20 pw for my 2 kids to have schoolmeals as I don't qualify for free ones. Sandwich, cucumber, tomatoes, grapes and a drink and jobs done. All it will do is erode the ritual of a family meal in the evening if they are eating a cooked lunch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    Our daughter's school recently removed hot dinners as an option because the cost of actually bringing in the meals was astronomical (we have ni kitchen facilities) so if they banned packed lunches please can someone tell me who will fund for the hot dinners to be replaced as it was too expensive for the school and parents to fund them - or do our pupils simply go without a midday meal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Will my kids have the right to demand NON-HALAL meat?

    Of course not!

    This country is going to the dogs - mention of dogs will offend some - good!

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    The Leon chain does good quality food but a bit expensive. So a little bit of publicity and association with healthy eating is probably very useful for them.
    Meanwhile I'm sure the government and schools have no intention of banning packed lunches although it is a good discussion topic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    If parents don't understand what a balanced diet is then their children's pack lunches are likely to be substandard but so is the rest of their diet. It is absurd to suggest a pack lunch in its self is the problem. Healthy nutrition is based on more than one meal on any particular day. It is the accumulation of what we consume over a period of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    My son was one of those fussy eaters.
    After a couple of weeks in a boarding school that all went.
    Now he eats normally.
    In my view it was just a bad habit.

    However, I do not think that banning packed lunches is the correct action to take. Education is the key here and there may be good reasons for a child to take a packed lunch.
    I think that eating a 'healthy' school meal should be the preference

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    For goodness sake just leave us alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Ridiculous! How can the government decide what our children will eat, & force parents to pay for school dinners which they may not be able to afford? Will parents & children alike have there freedom of choice taken away?
    It is important for children to eat a well-balanced meal, but surely that is the parents responsibility? Perhaps educating children (and parents) about food is the way forward...

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    I work as a secondary teacher and have a young son myself. He will not be eating school meals. Meatballs normally consist of "a meatball" hidden in stodge and this is the case at most schools. Also is it really a good idea to let a government determine what our children eat when they couldnt even keep bute/horsemeat out of packaged food. They have no idea!

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    How much does all this nonsense cost?

    First, we had the campaign of the obvious, in which a famous celebrity pointed out the revelation turkey twizzlers were a rubbish cop-out and that labour and cost saving junk was unhealthy. Now, we have lunch box police, who are evaluating the pro's and con's of the confidential contents of childrens lunch boxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    I used to pay for school dinners for my eldest son until his teacher told me he wasn't really eating it and suggested him having packed lunches. No one should dictate that a child should have school dinners, the decision should be that of the parent. (I for one will also be sending my other 2 with packed lunches as £30 per week goes ALONG way towards my weekly food shop!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Clearly lots of parents provide healthy and suitable packed lunches, however how many children in your childs school are provided with unhealthy lunches?

    Do they merit the protection of the education authorities?

    I fear the only fair way, is for "enforcement" to be based on clinical need - however this has its own problems and significant cost. Gove won't spend a penny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    I have worked as a consultant in the catering industry for the last 10 years. The leading catering companies in the sector have made great efforts since the Jamie Olivier expose to raise the quality of school meals. However, as quality went up, and the french fries and turkey twizlers disappeared from the menu, take-up went down. It seems that many children were simply not used to heathy food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Perhaps schools need to be reminded that they are paid to provide a service. It is not the job of teachers or governments to dictate on packed lunches. By all means provide school lunches for those who want them and encourage a healthy diet - but banning packed lunches is totally unacceptable in a free society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    Is there going to be no end to our "nanny state". Let schools look after education and parents childrens diet. So they have a supposedly healthy lunch, how many then go home from school and gorge on crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    Schools should stick to education not regulation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Bearing in mind that school dinners are often provided by out-sourced businesses, this bit of government interference is a goldmine. Watch who fights for a piece of the action when every child is forced to buy a "healthy" dinner from a corporation run canteen. And if having swallowed all their bulk buy products children are still obese, what are they going blame next? Ban choice-it's dangerous.


Page 36 of 54


More Education & Family stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.