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 606.

    I'd rather my kids had nothing at lunchtime rather than a pile of over-cooked, over-processed slop served like prison food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    So not all schools have to follow this. So what is the point of having this debate? Offer free school meals and let the parents decide. The meals will be as healthy as the schools can afford.

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    My son has a packed lunch, which is healthy but enjoyable and I know exactly what he has eaten. If he is forced to eat school lunches, I will not know if he has eaten which will lead onto his lessons suffering because he is hungry. My son is very subborn and he will not eat something he doesn't want to no matter how hungry he is. This is a very bad move if the heads go ahead with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    This healthy eating in schools is getting out of hand. Oh yes, it's easy to say 'We're only looking after the children', but by forcing parents to buy so-called 'healthy' products, do you really think it's making such a difference? If you go to the supermarket, health foods are more expensive than 'junk' foods. Not everyone has the money to spend, especially not in today's economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    With increased regulation and restriction of individual's rights to be an individual and with the sheer arrogance of a lame government thinking it has become an overnight expert on everything, the growing popularity of UKIP becomes clear to all but the mainstream politicians.

    It's not that UKIP have policies on everything that's attracting voters - it's that they haven't!

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    the old chestnut of scaling production to minimise cost. Brilliant idea,

    please sir, I want some more..........

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    Evidently children that eat packed lunches will be a burden on society failing at every turn due to their nutritional deficit. Damn my lack of foresight, my poor, poor boys, I mean they look healthy, but we send them to school with packed lunches. They are really Obese and are hiding it from their parents. I imagine they have made up their excellent school reports as well. I am so ashamed...

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    This is outrageous. My son has to take his own lunch as the school cannot guarantee not to cause serious damage to his health. He is seriously (life threateningly) allergic to milk protein. No school canteen has yet been able to guarantee to provide him with consistently edible food on a daily basis. So we have no choice but to feed him ourselves. This ruling CANNOT happen

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    As a parent of 3 children living in Mr Gove's Surrey constituency I think pricing is always an issue - especially at canteen style secondary schools. £150 a month on school lunches is a little high when we have a main meal together as a family in the evening. I have a packed lunch and if prepared properly this is more than sufficient.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    Banning of packed lunches IS ridiculous. But school lunches should not be seen as a demonic alternative that "big gov" is forcing on your children. Having active participation in your child's school PTA can allow parents to have constructive input into their children's time at school. Only by communicating with the school can concerns be remedied and solutions found.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    At least when I went to dinner school, you knew the food was slop and would end up being fed to the pigs unlike today where the schools have been proved to be using HORSE MEAT to increase their profits while suggesting that it's healthy................

    I'll keep making packed lunches that ARE healthy and safe for my kids with their various allergies which schools don't understand.


  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    @560. Rosetta

    I think I'd rather control what my child eats directly thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    I think if I was told by the Government or by the school that my kids were not allowed to bring a packed lunch to school that my reply would be "GET STUFFED".

    Freedom of choice and do not micro govern me!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    So the nanny state wants all children to wear the same uniform, eat the same meals, learn the same politically correct lessons etc. Is this England or North Korea? For Gods sake at least let us decide what we feed our kids!

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    Once again a case of penalising the sensible masses because the ignorant and stupid can't feed their children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    My kids go to school with a sandwich, a packet of crisps and two choc bars - there I've said it!They both eat everything and come home with empty lunch boxes. Fruit and Veg are eaten at home fresh from the fridge. Make school dinners more comparable with the price of a packed lunch and maybe i'll reconsider!

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    Parents have a duty to raise their children in a healthy way, so they should take on board any advice given not just rely on 'nobody tells me how to bring up my children attitude'.
    If the packed lunches are healthy then fine, if the lunches are filled with can't be bothered food, then parents should be made aware that it is a form of abuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    Make packed lunches LESS attractive than school dinners?

    Oh my.

    That is going to be a hard sell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    Not so long ago, there was a case where a school refused to serve a child with a school lunch on the grounds that their lunch account was not in credit. Although that was the parents' fault, their reaction of withdrawing the child from the school was considered entirely justified.

    Actually confiscating a child's lunchbox would be an even stronger justification for such a reaction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    I remember when I was a kid, one primary school I went to... I just didn't bother to eat at lunch because the food was terrible. And was always meat (As a long time vegetarian they had no options for me) However packed lunches were banned at that school.

    What is better? Having kids eat something, or not eating at all? Because this is what will start happening if you ban packed lunches.


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