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 1026.

    here we go again when is this government going to get it through their thick skulls that parents dictate what their kids eat and if they want them to have a packed lunch no government has the right to stop them, they are so out of touch with the ordinary person in the street in every way it wants to make you scream

  • rate this

    Comment number 1025.

    Let's not pretend this is anything other than the Tories following through on their 'treating schools as businesses' ideal and accessing all that lovely untapped profit for private caterers in families who rely on packed lunches. Ban on packed lunches, demonising our teachers (just like with benefit claimants), free schools, introducing unqualified teachers... GOVE OUT

  • rate this

    Comment number 1024.

    Total Nonsence !!!

    (1) Tight catering budgets restrict menus
    (2) Kids often refuse to eat the dinners and you cannot force them.
    (3) Too many have special dietry requirements that require packed lunches.

    Nanny State - No Thanks

  • rate this

    Comment number 1023.

    What an absolute load of nonsense.

    My daughter has a packed lunch every day, I know what is good healthy food and what isn't and she gets the best I can give her.

    You tell me where I'm supposed to find the £30 a week to pay for school dinners when I can spend less on packed lunches which are more than likely better for her anyway??!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1022.

    What are us useless parents going to do during school holidays? I do hope we will be sent food parcels...On a more serious note, we enjoy preparing and eating a hot meal nightly with our 3 healthy children who have a packed lunch every day. They do not require two hot meals a day (I imagine that could lead to obesity) so are they to sit and watch mum and dad whilst munching on their sandwiches?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1021.

    Here's an idea. Cooking lessons before lunch time, and the kids could
    cook their own food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1020.

    I think the government have lost the plot. Healthier eating is not just about food, it is also the education of not only the children but also the parents about balanced diets and how to cook.
    Cost plays a very important part of the equation and to throw £16m at the problem will hardly make a dent on this year on year problem.
    Nutritional standards - nearly everyone totally ignores them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1019.

    The government want us to trust them when they couldn't keep horsemeat out of school dinners?

    Not only that but can't parents decide what they want their children eating and not someone else?

    One of the most ridiculous government ideas in a long time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    I usually went home for lunch prepared by my mum. I don't suppose we could tolerate that sort of radical behaviour these days unless I was accompanied by a team including a dietitian, social worker & food hygiene specialist. Surely we should just collect all babies straight from the maternity wards & hand them over to the state then & there and cut out these 'parent' middle men (sarcasm intended).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1017.

    Government - leave me alone and empty the bins, that's all i ask.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    998. Gerry
    "If a child who's not had a healthy diet at home is faced with it at school, they're highly unliklely to eat it."
    You could also claim the opposite - a child who is forced to eat uber-healthy food at home will rebel at school when faced with forbidden fruits like chips and chocolate cake.
    Mine love fruit and veg - but will equally demolish a pizza.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    Is this really concern for the welfare of children or are the external caterers worried that their profits are falling?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.

    I know some mainland European countries - all of the pupils are given school dinners. On my French exchange trip - I did have the misfortune to have a disgusting cheesy fish stew (with no options) as a school dinner. I saw the others eating it. Asked my penfriend do pupils take packed lunches and she said no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1013.

    This idea is ridiculous!!! I have three boys at school and I cant afford to send them for school dinners. I'm on a low income but because I dont claim job seekers allowance my children are not entitled to free school meals. My children would have to go without ALL DAY!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1012.

    "Nourishing school dinners brought to you direct from Monsanto!" Ban packed lunches so they have to eat school dinners or starve, seems very ominous to me, or maybe I'm just too cynical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1011.

    Don't you just despise the horrible people? School Teacher, Head Teachers. These people refuse to point blankly improve School education, yet will try to force there pathetic will on others.
    I am really glad that my children are no longer under the influence of people like this. It was a School Teacher who told my 6 year old daughter it was wrong to eat meat!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    Providing hot meals at schools and the colleges is a good way to relieve working parents and the students themselves from all difficulties that they may face everyday in providing packing meals. My experience comes from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in Uk where they could provide the best nutritious hot meals for their students and the staff more than 3 decades ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    73.OnesMaw "UK a dictatorship? Am I the only one that finds that extremely worrying?"
    No, I've been saying it ever since this moral panic over 'obesity' began. What do you think the purpose of the the manipulation of the BMI to label more kids 'obese', the Govt and media obsession with weight etc is? It's not about health but exerting more power and control over us, and we've all swallowed it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1008.

    I do not regard British food as healthy (why so many obese people here?) and we as a family only eat it occasionally. My children also reject Asian food. So what remains? Pizza and lasagne, which is being kept warm for a long time while the children cue up for lunch... reducing the already low nutrition value significantly. What's the point with change if the children skip lunch (as I did!)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    The nanny-state Nazi's strike again!
    Still, the Government needs a story like this so that people will quickly forget about the recent M.P's wage rise.
    Smokescreen anyone?


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