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 706.

    When I used to go to school, my packed lunch would've been confiscated today. They're making out that it's damaging; apparently, these lunches are ruining kids' lives! Strange, because I'm a healthy 18 year old with 12 top grade GCSEs, two Level 3 Extended Diplomas and working an internship in a global company. I tried school dinners, but if you're last in the queue, you get leftovers - not nice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    Maybe G4S are going to make a bid to run the school dinners service!

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    Restauranteurs ? Experts in nutrition or in it for the money?

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    The external caterer's at my children's school tell me their menu is balanced over 3 weeks as long as you eat every day, so how that impacts on any evening meal is a concern!! Also my daughter is a coeliac, and they have been criticised for serving food is gluten free when it was not. Also where do we suddenly find at least £20 per week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    Another attempt by a pretentious, alien government to tell us that they are automatically superior as a race and that we should live their way of life.

    What they've failed to realise though is that if EVERYONE lived like they did, crime rates would soar!

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    Once kids hit puberty they start monitoring themselves and their diets more as they become aware of body image.....its then that the underweight rather than the overweight should be monitored more closely. Anorexia/bulemia kills as well and is more costly to deal with in kids...and not always obvious. Genuinely obese kids usually have an underlying problem that is medical not nutritional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    659.P Uxbridge
    Just now
    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?
    Pizza & limp salad are extraordinarily healthy for the suppliers & shareholders bank balances.
    The welfare of the nations children is probably the lowest concern on the 'in it for profit' suppliers radar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    What a child eats for lunch is but a fraction of what they consume in a day. The diet in total needs to be nutritious and healthy. Whether every element needs to be as healthy and nutritious as it can be is debateable. The people making these statements, full of self-interest as they are, don't have a clue about what these kids eat over a day. I wouldn't want mine eating two cooked meals a day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    Ridiculous idea. menues of over cooked vegetables with no nutrition left in them, fish and chips, pizza!! Id happily collect my child at lunchtime and let them eat their sandwiches and fruit in the park. Sadly, In trying to dictate our choices, they will lose any control they have left.. Yet another financially led debate that is in reality less concerned with nutrition than making a profit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    641. kynd77
    Snap! And there will be many more of us!

    Everything in moderation is the key. Children would be just as unhealthy eating a fully fat-free diet as they are eating too much fat, a sweet treat with lunch isn't child abuse, and you cannot judge a child's overall diet based on what they take in their lunch box for 5 meals out of 21 a week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    My Children's school has biometric scanning to get dinner with no cash option. If you do not agree with this, packed lunch is your only option.


  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    Hmm, well, if the government are going to battery-farm future tax-payers, I guess they'd want a say on their nutrition. After all no self-respecting intensive poultry producer would let their chickens eat whatever they like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    This is madness. My son goes to an excellent school and the dinners are pretty good (probably excellent as school food goes). The food on offer is accompanied predominately by chips. Plus it becomes something like £100 per month which a pack lunch is not. We try to make his packed lunch exciting and have all the nutrients he needs with no chips! PS - he's taller, fitter than his classmates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    Taking the responsibility away from the parents for 1 meal a day won't stop parents feeding their children junk the rest of the time! They should ban school meals and encourage healthy packed lunches! Support for parents who don't have the organisational skills/knowledge to shop and prepare a packed lunch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 692.

    To be honest am getting sick and tired being told what I can and cant do with MY children, I have a 10 year old who already has a packed lunch at school and a 4 year old who will be starting school in september, she too will also have a packed lunch. They both have a home cooked meal every night. I will continue to give them a packed lunch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 691.

    I think parents and children should be given the choice to decide for themselves. Leave things as they are. What if a child won't eat the school fare? You can take a horse to the water..

  • rate this

    Comment number 690.

    As a newly retired teacher who taught in Stevenage, Salford and Newport, I am able to give a bit of perspective to this debate. My experience before the Thatcher government introduced tendering was that food was generally wholesome 'homely' food with fairly limited choice. Once the priority became profit there is a wider range of less nutritious fare and many lunch boxes are healthier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    I am a little confused. On the one hand we are being told we have an ageing problem and on the other hand we are told we will die early because of our bad eating, drinking, smoking habits etc., Which is it? Surely one will cancel out the other so just enjoy life. I would rather live 10 years on cream cakes than 20 years on lettuce. Let people do what they want - we are not here for that long.

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

    678. sayitlikeitisalready

    Nanny State Mentality! I thought we left that behind with the demise of the out-of-date labour party?


    That's tight we left it to the mighty private sector and now have a massive obesity problem, coupled with a huge rise in food banks and tens of thousands living in food poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    Pupils take packed lunches because they're already eating a main meal at home and/or their parents cannot afford the food provided at school. So by banning packed lunches The kids will either get fat, or not get to eat at all. Which of those is going to encourage 'health'? Take your pick Cameron. Another report produced by people that can afford everything.


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