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 746.

    School is supposed to be about providing kids with an education, yet all they seem to do is impose stupid rules. It is the parents responsibility for their childs diet, school should not be allowed to dictate what children can and cannot eat. I suspect it all comes down to the fact they want to grab more dinner money from families. The state should leave parents to parent!

  • rate this

    Comment number 745.

    One of the best ideas I heard, was for kids to prepare and cook their school meals themselves, at school. Ideally, they'd grow much of the food too. An all round winner, as I see it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 744.

    If schools were as worried about getting results and academic performance out of children....we might be getting somewhere.

    I see more strikes in the pipeline...please don't try and convince me that this is in my child's best interests as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 743.

    Looks like not much has changed in the half century since I was at school and found their dinners to be disgusting slop thrown at us by surly fat ladies and eaten with greasy cutlery. There's one change though...those horrible plastic indented trays instead of proper plates. How about requiring school staff to eat the same meals using the same cutlery/trays as the kids? Set a good example...yes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 742.

    The only thing I would really like to ban is all the experts who come up with all these reports. Why all this striving for absolute perfection and excellence all the time. Why the assumption that unless you are an expert you are automatically an idiot needing to be told what when and how to eat or anything else. If someone criticised what was on my kids plate they'd probably get it thrown at them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    Stop Child Benefit and make all School Lunches Free. It amounts to about the same amount of money. You would need to introduce some sort of quality control on the meals so maybe give the contract managment to schools and pay them a bonus for high uptake inside some healthy food rules

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    MPS get a pay rise and now banning packed lunches in schools...I guess this one way to steal from the pockets of children #pathetic

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    It is high time that the State kept its nose out of people's private choices.
    Banning packed lunches will not guarantee that kids eat healthily (whatever that means), just that the Education Dept can say they eat healthily on its watch. What they eat outside of school hours will be down to parents - where responsibility should sit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    I hope this doesnt happen UNLESS school meals become free for all other wise I cant see this working, its just about manageable if if one child (£10 a week) but two or more it starts to really cost and much more than bring in there own lunches. I have two sprongs the other half works I cant see how I can find £80 a MONTH for school dinners its not possible. even if they made it cheaper by 50p

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    Why not provide a healthy lunch to Mr Gove's guidelines free of charge but still allow packed lunches to cater for special diets and individual preferences? Surely those parents who don't bother to provide a healthy lunchbox would simply tell their kids to have the free one?

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    At my school the school dinners are still pastries, milkshakes and pizza, I lost 3 stone after changing from school dinners to pack lunches. This ban only works for schools that will actually give their children healthy meals. My school is prove that not all schools do this, this ban would be ridiculous!

  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    -ve rating of comment 652 simply proves the point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.

    721.Groundling - This isn't about healthy eating otherwise Academy's wouldn't be exempt from following healthy school meal guidelines. It's about £££. Force meals to be purchased, not provided from hime & award someone a big contract for doing so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.

    I cook a variety of Mediterranean food for my children most of the days to encourage them healthy and tasty eating habits. I do not think the school will ever provide a better meal and I don't think the government should restrict my freedom of choosing what they eat

  • rate this

    Comment number 732.

    The DfE seems to have forgotten that many schools do not have a kitchen. Will they be paying for new kitchens? I doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    Hang on a minute....Who's going to check the content of the packed lunch boxes when the teachers are on one of their one day strikes or ''training days''?
    Maybe they are ''Institiutionally packed lunchist!''

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    How ridiculous! Packed lunches not only give choice to families, but also spare expense. Some people can't afford to keep on buying school dinners and therefore packed lunches are the only option. I used to have packed lunches at school, and still do at work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    Nne of schools in my area have cooking facilities and my childrens senior shool do not have enough capacity to seat even half of the kids that attend if they all had a school meal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    what a load of nonsense more big brother watching you enjoy your packed lunch then enjoy mums evening meal

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    Why not just introduce growing food in the school grounds?....if the little blighters learn to grow it they may take a deeper interest in eating it.....and it would be more or less free......I think.


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