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 666.

    Everyone distracted by what other parents may or may not be putting in their kids lunchboxes should ask who wrote the report, it’s no surprise that the catering industry would want this kind of thing to happen really, is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 665.

    What happened to consumer and our own choices? We live in a state where they want to control what we do, what we eat. The only real reasons the gov't want a ban is because it will increase school meal takings rather than the money going to the tax avoiding supermarkets..

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    I'm glad some other idiot didn't come up with this idea while I was at school......

    Besides if a parent is daft enough to feed their kids crap then any school lunch won't make a blind bit of difference when they go home and eat a microwave burger and wash it down with a pint of coke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    "Except for Academies and Free Schools" - most schools are exempt from this then? If I had kids in school I wouldn't want them eating the sort of tripe that schools pass off as food. I wouldn't care less about any other kids either - that's their parents responsibility not mine, or the state for that matter. Stop letting kids go to the local takeaway first - that was what we did every Friday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 662.

    Schools get their food from the same place that hospitals do. Most adults don't see what the school meals are like but know that hospital food is absolute slop. Draw your own conclusions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 661.

    Mass produced school dinners.

    It's horses four courses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    When I was a child my mother would pack a sandwich (brown bread), an apple and a banana. Now can the goverment tell how school meals are better than that?
    What will the schools do for children with eating disorders? I'm unsure as to whether the proper 'elf n safety' guidelines will be followed in the kitchens to ensure cross contamination doesn't happen. Can the schools cater for these children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

    School meal cannot be that good now lots of people are now fat. How is pizza a healthy? which is served daily in my children’s school with limp salad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 658.

    Having spent time in a number of schools and sampled a number of school lunches, I expect my children would simply starve themselves if I could not provide a packed lunch for them. In the bid to produce so called healthy food, schools seem to have forgotten that food needs to taste good as well and does require at least a little bit of seasoning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 657.

    Politicians: set the example. Put your kids through the state system from start to finish. Regulate that only people who do this can stand as an MP/AM as they won't have a clue what its like if they don't.

    Barack Obama's family only eat organic produce whilst the Monsanto Protection Act legislation shields biotech companies from claims should their products be found to cause harm.

    Scary times

  • rate this

    Comment number 656.

    Perhaps if successive govts hadn't sold off playing fields the kids could start to do sports again and run some of all this unhealthy fat off? At the same time I see schoolkids every day passing my home and few of them are what I would call fat. Much the same proportion as when I went to school 50 years ago

  • rate this

    Comment number 655.

    What utter drivel. I have 4 kids (16-7) and all are healthy, active children. Do they eat crisps? Yes but only in moderation. Do they eat chocolate? Yes but only in moderation. Do they have a healthy cooked meal every evening? Yes of course. Would it be unhealthy to eat two cooked meals a day 5 days a week? YES
    Please will the government and schools stop interfering in things....

  • Comment number 654.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 653.

    I remember my school dinners 1968-72 mostly they were very good.
    This was because we had dinner ladies who actually prepared the food from fresh materials.
    Not as today when the food arrives pre-prepared by the cheapest supplier warmed through and served as fresh!
    Also at my school there were over 800 pupils all were served seated including the STAFF in 2 sittings of 45mins!

  • rate this

    Comment number 652.

    Political bigotry's alive and well on this board.

    Having suggested that a top-rated politically-slanted comment was prejudiced, within a few seconds my comment (564) had many -ve votes. In this time, was there really time to scroll to find the original comment, read it, check the text of the article and compare interpretations, judge my comment and get back to vote?

  • rate this

    Comment number 651.

    When i was in comprehensive, we would go down to the local store and buy a half cottage loaf remove the inside and fill with crisps... I still see some of my friends from that time and we have turned out well. If we are not careful the "Food Police" will be running every aspect of our childrens lives as well as home life... everything in moderation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 650.

    I have never appreciated so much how lucky I was to have grown up in the 1970s. I could eat what I want without fear, I could say what I want without fear, I could smoke without fear, I could go almost anywhere without fear. I thought I had it bad back then but I have never truly appreciated the freedom I had until these last years of living in the UK. We are talking about banning packed lunches!

  • rate this

    Comment number 649.

    Children have taken packed lunches to school for all of known history. There is no logic in banning packed lunches. Logic tells me that we should ban the outright sale of toxic food's riddled with fake sugar and preservatives. but then we'll have the uproar of corporations who will go on about freedom of choice. hypocrites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 648.

    So who makes money from this packed lunches are better than some of the processed glop they served in most schools on the misery budget allowed by the government are the writers of this report living in the real world

  • rate this

    Comment number 647.

    Wich Tory MP has just been made a director of a catering Co.Answer Please Dave.


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