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 626.

    This healthy school rubbish has been going for years now and the number of overweight kids is still going up.

    The brain burns so many calories when actively learning that you could give your kids all the junk they could eat and they'd still burn it all off.

    The issue is whats at home not school. Let kids have their pleasures while they can, parents need to fix the rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    How comes everyone's saying they provide healthy packed lunches yet numbers of childhood obesity is rising? They having healthy lunches then eating a tonne of junk at home? Obviously some peoples diets and lifestyles aren't as good as they claim but shouldn't ban the option of a packed lunch. I'm not against junk (she says whilst having small chips as a Friday treat) but everything in moderation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    There are bigger issues in the world. The state needs to back out of this asap. In a time when they're all financially comfortable and the rest of us are struggling, forcing families into paying for school meals which could work out more expensive than them packing their child a packed lunch is just unacceptable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    The disparaging comments about 'cold chips' amused me.

    My family loves cold potatoes in almost any form.

    Cold chips - especially thick home-made chips - are quite the treat, as are cold roasties, and for a quick snack are preferred to bread-and-butter or toast by the male members of the household. Personally, I prefer cold boiled potatoes, especially my home-grown Pink Fir Apple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    Has the education secretary not realised that by educating parents and children in healthy eating, he might just prevent the problem in the first place?

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    By banning packed lunches you are not addressing the problem. Parents & children need educating on what is a healthy diet & why it is important to limit high fat & sugar foods. Work should be done to improve peoples knowledge of the consequences of a poor diet (not just weight) & improve peoples motivation to make healthy choices. That doesnt mean banning "unhealthy foods" but reducing them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    Why don't we just feed them Soylent Green and have done with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    How dare they try and force what I feed my children. Mine our active children who eat a varied packed lunch to give them energy. I've seen the school dinners and they are not worth £2 each and they are too small for active growing boys. My children are all slim and athletic, not a sign of fat.
    Ridiculous idea

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    Maybe the "clever" person that came up with this "wonderful" idea is the one that is going to pay for it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    So a review reckons the packed lunch should be banned? Yeah and a recent government commissioned review reckons MP's should get a massive pay rise too. This country is in the toilet. Government should mind their own business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    Are governement really that naive? Many children will go hungry before they will eat something they don't like! My son used to regularly come home and say he had eaten no lunch because the options he liked were gone before his class got into the lunch hall so we resorted to packed lunches. We need to educate parents about healthy eating rather then trying to ban packed lunches!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    As a parent of a child with severe food allegies I am very concerned to hear this proposal. I work in a school and have seen the cross contamination between the various dishes, without some serious changes in procedures I don't see how this is possible. Also school dinners are far more expensive than a healthy packed lunch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    As long are the kids are active then I don't see a problem with a sensible packed lunch with an occasional treat. Packed lunches are not to blame for increasing child obesity, a lazy home lifestyle is - too many gadgets, too much TV, and a cupboard full of easily accessible snacks. Educate the parents rather than force extra regulation on already overburdened schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    Having left school 2 years ago, I distinctly remember the grey processed chicken burgers and chips that you could wring the grease out of, and, with this being the case at many schools, I'm sure parents would feel better giving their child a salad or healthy sandwich and maybe a small choccy bar for lunch father than the low quality school meals......

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    This has nothing to do with the health of schoolchildren and everything to do with helping the Leon restaurant chains finances.
    It seems everything this gov't does is based on steering taxpayers and individuals money to their friends in private businesses.
    They will even use legislation if necessary.
    What a sorry bunch they are.
    I thought Cameron wanted to end the nanny state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    A ridiculous idea!!! To feed my 2 children on school diners would cost over £20 per week...per month £80...per term approx £240...per year £720 It doesnt cost anything like that for a pack-up. Yet another hit on the pockets of the working people in this country! How much money do these people think we have got? If the cost of a school meal is the same as a pack-up I might think about it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    Dear Government,

    Any improvement to school dinners is welcome, but you know where you can stick your ban.

    Yours sincerely,

    The Public

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    What a shocker – catering industry demand children are forced to eat catered food. Conflict of interest? Why don’t we commission Virgin Rail to report that we should ban cars while we are at it, or is that next weeks headline?

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    Most kids have their 'main' meal at home. School is usually just a filler and it's better for them to have something they will at least eat (unsupervised) than have nothing. Keep the hated veg and stricter balance at home where it can be monitored.(anorexia is just as likely as obesity these days) Parents aren't all the Dumbo's these reports try to make out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    I've two children in junior school, who will not eat the school lunches. As they are 2.50£per day (incl. 40p for a 100ml kia-ora type juice drink), the elder one complains they donot fill him up, as its the same portion size in Y6 as in Y3. The younger one is just plain fussy and doesn't like school meals. All i do is make sure theres fruit,no crisps in their packup. I dont spend 25£pw in packup


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