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 586.

    I’m tired of hearing from parents who insist on their right to feed their children junk food. It’s partly because of their attitude that we have such an enormous problem with child obesity in this country. If they want to do this to their own children, they should do it at home, or send their kids to private school (where they would probably learn to eat what they’re given and be grateful).

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    Truly shocked. What an awful and insulting dictate from interferring busy bodies. They say they are concerned about childrens welfare ? I think they are more concerned with showing off, bullying parents and taking over others people's lives and responsibilies. Shameful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.

    I am extremly concious about mine and my daughters diet. We eat no meat and very little processed food or dairy. School dinners are appalling. Ive a right as a parent to feed my daughter what I feel is best, dont I?
    Though I think someone could make an argument over whether thats a healthy diet for a growing child

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    My daughter has school meals and loves them. She tried packed lunches but didn't really enjoy them as much as the hot dinners. I went on a school trip once and one of the children had jam sandwiches on white bread, crisps, biscuits, chocolate and a can of coke. I was horrified, he's only 7. Apparently this is fairly normal at our school, based on that I'd like to see more uptake of school meals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    The idea of banning packed lunches must come from someone with no understanding of the reality of low income life. If you're in low paid work (and not eligible for free school meals), and you have, say, 4 children, that means an extra £40 a week for lunches (assuming £2/lunch). Where are these families supposed to find that? By all means ban fizzy drinks etc, but not packed lunches per se.

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    Its rather disheartening to see so many "pro crisp" comments.

    Its a fact that we have a major obesity problem in the UK. And its a fact that our diet is poor.

    The whole mentality of crisps and chocolate as "treats" is the problem.

    Parents are the problem, passing on the baton of Marketing.

    The term "snack" was invented by the food industry to sell more and we've all fallen for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    'The dark days of the turkey twizzler' - this cracked me up! I remember them from school, and they aren't fond memories. As people have said, school food quality varies vastly, and I remember before chips were limited to fridays many students at my secondary school would eat just chips every single day. The only healthy things are muscle meat, veg, fruit, nuts and some carbs. All you need to know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    My children take packed lunches to school for a few reasons. First; price. School meals would cost us over £800 a year (£22.50 a week). I don't spend £22.50 a week of my grocery budget just on packed lunch items. Second; their likes/dislikes. I know they would not eat half the items offered at school, leaving them hungry. Third; home cooking. I do it; we eat well with a varied diet at home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    In theory, this might be a good idea BUT...

    First and foremost, ALL schools have to provide guaranteed standards of nutrition.

    Then they have to guarantee special diets such as vegetarian, Halal, Coeliac, Kosher, etc.

    Then they have to provide a sensible and comfortable environment with short and organised queues and enough time to enjoy the meal.

    Then they can talk about no packed lunches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    At our primary school, the price of lunch is now £2 per day, at the secondary it's £3.50. That's £5.50 per day for two children (one in each school) of £27.50 per week. With both kids at secondary, it's £7 per day/ £35 per week. Compare that with: loaf of value bread, pack of cheese, 1/4 tub of margarine, 10 apples - £7 in total. School lunches are great, but many simply can't afford them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    Do children have human rights or are they just a "cash cow"

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    Again, bending to the corporate suppliers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    what about allergies and intolerences? I would be happy for my son to have school dinners if they provided a gluten free / dairy free option and the staff had the relevant training to provide them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    I am extremly concious about mine and my daughters diet. We eat no meat and very little processed food or dairy. School dinners are appalling and there is no way I would let her eat the rubbish given in schools. Vegetarian options are usually TVP or stodge. I have a right as a parent to feed my daughter what I feel is best, dont I?

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    Back to the naughty chair for the eternally stupid Gove.M.

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    My two children have packed lunch because we can't afford hot school meals. They would definately have school dinners every day otherwise, its just too expensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    I'm a working single mother and I think this is a ridiculous proposition. Encouraging parents to pack healthier lunches would provide better choice and be better for the child. My daughter has a school lunch as a treat and then a packed lunch four days of the week that always contains fruit and vegetables. My children and I eat a meal together in the evening and I would not give this up ... ever!

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    I really don't see the issue with a packet of crisps in a lunchbox. A healthy lunch isn't turned unhealthy by removing a 100 calories packet of crisps! There's a much bigger picture to look at!

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    As it costs £10 a week to pay for school meals,how can you force people to pay that amount.

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it a bit like horses! If the govts spent the money on providing decent food instead of paying all the 'expert' inflated salaries to write these stupid reports maybe more kids would actually eat better. Have another bash at parents who are probably doing their best why don't you! These constant critical reports are damaging/unhelpful


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