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 726.


    Erm no, if kids don't like food, why force feed it to them? That is cruelty to children. It's even worse if they're allergic to the food that is in school meals. That is child endangerment.

    You have to remember that kids don't fit in a one size fits all mould.

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    Force feeding kids, (pork laced halal) will of course make sense to those at the shovel end of the school meals food chain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    And how are schools meant to cater for children who suffer from food allergies? I know of one individual who has so many allergies that only her mother has a full knowledge of what she can and can't eat. Can schools really cater for all dietary needs, including allergies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    I love food of all sorts, and as such am very keen to provide an interesting and balanced meal in a container for the kids at school.
    I've had teachers try to berate me for providing fizzy drinks - which were in fact sparkling water. The teachers even suggested that they would confiscate what they consider contriband. I politely told them that if they did so, I would prosecute them for theft!

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    This is just absurd. Banning children from taking packed lunches to school!?! What sort of state do we live in? Make school dinners healthy, encourage take-up, but have some common sense!

  • rate this

    Comment number 721.

    So what they're basically saying is parents can't feed their children properly, so they have to be banned from doing so and the school has to feed them to make sure they get healthy food. How insulting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    691.LoisUsher said: "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"

    And it that attitude, pandering rather than telling that is the difference between the obesity level now than 50 years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    The food industry is in no position whatsoever to even consider this. The food industry has let every single person in this country down with their penny pinching production methods. As a parent I would rather provide my children with carefully sourced ingredients including home grown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    This maybe an urban myth, but the story goes that a school would not allow a ham sandwich (in a packed lunch) unless it had lettuce in it. Now best case scenario is that if a child doesn’t like the sandwich with lettuce in it, (which can often be the case) they will discard the lettuce. Worst case, they don't eat the sandwich and there's nothing healthy about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    @ 235. Cosmologic
    "you get the star prize for embarrassing unoriginality"

    And you get the star prize for patronizing sanctimony. Clearly you think you know better than everyone else and hence they need the government to tell them how to live their lives. Let me tell you there are plenty of people in this country who are more than capable of making their own decisions and will continue to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    Further to my comment at #673, if the idiots did ban packed lunches, I would refuse to pay their school lunch fees. If they didn't feed my child, I would legally challenge that, in loco parentis, they are mistreating my child and, two, would argue that no food at all would have a far greater detrimental effect on learning than eating their healthy packed lunch. Time to kick the fascists out!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    If the parents put healthy food in the lunch boxes whats the issue? We do and we at least know what the kids are eating. If they ate school dinners we'd have no control over what the kids ate or didnt ! If this is "health drive" issue then force more kids to walk to school. We live near John Flamsteed school , Derbyshire and lazy parents regularly block up the sorrounding roads around 3 ish

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    Think this would be very unfair due to my daughter does not like some of the meals on the menu. I would rather her eat & not be hungry all afternoon. Some of the meals such as jacket potatoes she will eat but some of the sauces she does not like which resulted in her wanting her to go on to packed lunches. I think parents should have a choice for the kids not the school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    If the school kids have to eat a meal cooked in school, and they do not like certain foods or allergic to certain foods or can't eat some foods because of their religion, or whatever reason, i'm sure they
    could please everyone by pre ordering the meals in advance. Oh by the way they should be free of charge as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    School Dinners? Healthy? ...SERIOUSLY?

    When I was at school (about 3 years ago) the only edible thing on the menu was the chicken burger, which consisted of two chicken dippers inside a plain bun (which was usually stale). Packed lunches ARE the healthy option!

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    ... and we wonder why kids are so picky when it comes to food!

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    This is a sick joke - excuse the pun!

    My children's school is now an Academy and the canteen menu has changed overnight from healthy to junk food. Banning packed lunches would therefore be a recipe for obesity.

    See BBC article on Jamie Oliver's comments on Academies being able to ignore healthy eating

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    All this will do is stop fussy children eating anything at lunchtime or encourage them to venture out secretly to the local chippy (which is dangerous and unhealthy).

    Our children's school already regulates what parents are "allowed" to include in lunch boxes. Our kids are healthy and active. If we want to give them a rare chocolate treat, we should be allowed to!

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    My parents made me have school dinners for all of my primary school years. So I didn't eat at lunch - If i didn't like the food I didn't eat it and that was most of the time. When my parents caught on, they finally switched me to pack lunch and I started eating. I reckon many kids will do the same, not all just the picky ones! lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    .....and let parents get on with parenting please!
    I hate all this nose poking into my business.
    I send my kids in with a sandwich, yoghurt, fruit, crisps and a plain biscuit. I give them what they like so it gets eaten. The slop served up at the primary school the younger two go to is appalling and I don't want my children to be hungry in the afternoon!!
    Nothing is unhealthy in moderation!!!


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