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

    Comment number 426.

    I have a packed lunch at work, my kids do at school. Then we have a meal at home. If they had school meals they would be eating two big meals a day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    A stupid idea! Packed lunches will always be the more attractive option for a lot of parents given the expense of many school meals...

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    What a load of rubbish, what about the kids that have special diet requirements?

    How dare they say what a child can and can't eat, we do not live in a dictatorship!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    Tyranny in our schools. Next they'll be saying that our kids belong to 'society', and 'society' should bring up kids and make decisions for them and not our parents.

    Whoops, I guess they already said that:

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    My son has packed lunches and we take care that these are both nutritious and affordable.

    I had packed lunches for most of my school life. Never any problems with lack of nutrition - I'm 6' 6" tall and in my teens had a lot of success in the demanding sport of competitive swimming.

    If my son's school insisted he had school lunches I would defy it - regardless of the consequences!

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    366. Colski
    Didn't communist China do this?

    Surely all school uniforms should be grey...


    And every child should have one decent nutritious meal a day.

    Whats your problem with that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Why can't people be allowed to just live their own lives and take their own risks without all this patronising advice and guidelines. If you believed everything you were told about food and drink( or anything else) you'd never leave the house or have any kind of live. 'Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die' makes a lot more sense to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    Talk about a draconian state!

    We live in a supposed free country - or do we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    365.Conger said: 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.

    Good god, do you have 5 kids with a food bill that big??

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    Unless it is actually toxic, there is no such thing as "unhealthy food" What is potentially unhealthy is the BALANCE of nutrients. If on average over the space of a week, you get the right amount of each food group, you will not suffer any ill effects. 5 meals per week out of 21, if a parent chooses to make an "unhealthy" packed lunch, who is to say the other 16 are not fantastic? Check home too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    RE 351. As a consequence parents started sending their children off to school with packed lunches (many are less nutritious than the school meals they replace) or giving their older children money to spend at a local store (usually a fast food outlet). Aside from the dietary implications, this also gives rise to child safety and safeguarding issues, and an increase crime and anti-social behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    Why don't the govenment simply remove all newborns a birth, that way we know they will be well cared for by the state. Oh wait..................

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Authoritarian legislation to ban a simple choice on what people eat for lunch. The government is wandering into areas that are not its concern. Since when has it been their job to dictate what people eat (once it's passed the usual hygeine/fit for consumption requirements). What next? Ban McD or Pizza Hut for adults (not that I care - don't use them) but it's still wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    PISA noted UK schools had the highest political interference of anywhere.
    Causing the fastest falling educational standards.
    Most countries would resist it but our press backs dumbing down.
    Banning packed lunches won't affect children's health.
    If the government cared they'd control advertising to kids like every other EU country.
    And leave lunch policy to the schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    I don't think the government has any right at all to force parents to stop sending kids in with packed lunches. Educating them on healthy food for their children is one thing and absolutely a good idea, banning packed lunches is another! Packed lunches can be nutritious and probably a lot cheaper for parents and it should always remain their choice as to how and what they feed their children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Why is this an issue for the school? Surely its the parents that have responsibility for ensuring their children have a nutritious meal if having a packed lunch.

    May be the schools should invite the parents in for a lesson in nutritional packed lunch making.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    @ 395. Just so but what are we going to do about it? As usual society is great at talking about revolution but very rarely follows it through. Rather than posting here on HYS I suggest using the time to email Gove directly via the DfE site or his office to vent out ire over the subject

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    Why not use the cuts to upper earners child benefits to increase quality of school dinners, shouldnt ALL child benefit be used to BENEFIT children, just re-direct it.

    Thing is making/preparing food from scratch & not using pre-made sludge takes time & money is not provided to cover these extra costs

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    Why don't the Govt. just adopt every child born in the UK so they can ensure the state raises them in the correct way?

    If parents can't be trusted to feed their kids properly what else are they doing that is not to the Govt's liking?

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    I will not be forced to pay for school dinners. I simply cannot afford to. What is the school going to say if I say no? Expel him? haha. Stop overstepping your mark schools/government. I AM the parent NOT you, therefore you have no right to decide what give my child for lunch.


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