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 1066.

    Why not do what we had to do-you either eat school meals OR you go HOME... When I was at school in the 60's and 70's,I had school dinners. Only 2 kids in my school went home. There were only 3 or 4 fat kids in the school,and we didn't have the choice kids do now. Also,allergies were much less prevelant...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1065.

    Aside from all the other problems, I just don't see how this can be practically introduced. I'm a teacher and have worked in primary schools with upwards of 800 pupils - please somebody tell me how these schools are meant to find the time (and space?) to feed all 800 pupils without encroaching on their learning or play time? Just another of Gove's ideas designed to upset and annoy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1064.

    i find it a little disturbing that the state is now trying to dictate what people eat- surely everyone including children should have the choice between a packed lunch prepared at home, or a meal cooked by an institution! It is the nanny-state gone mad

  • rate this

    Comment number 1063.

    Is there not some basic human rights issue in this idiotic proposal by the government, were you are proposing to force children to eat school lunches or starve? I am convinced this government are loonies who don't live in the real world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1062.

    You got the government YOU voted for. ITS down to YOU

  • rate this

    Comment number 1061.

    Maybe ban school meals in every school and make packed lunches compulsory?
    Nearly as stupid as whats proposed....but not quite.
    We vote with our feet, if the uptake is low then something is seriously is wrong and a few heads need to roll.
    Maybe the price is too high and we need a charity or the lottery to subsidise them or make them all free?
    That maybe the best solution, a special lottery game.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1060.


    "I couldn't care less if chavs are feeding their fat kids on crisps & chocolate bars."

    But you're happy for your taxes to be spent on dealing with their health issues later in life?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1059.

    Yet more evidence that the nanny state is alive & unwanted. Parents send kids with packed lunches for a variety of reasons, they may for example want to eat a hot meal as a family in the evening. Checking what kids take in a lunchbox is one thing, banning them altogether smacks of state & local authority controlling, left wing Union driven communism. Bring on the free schools

  • rate this

    Comment number 1058.

    It won't make a difference as just 5 of the 21 meals a week are eaten at school (23.8%).

    The govt cannot control what is eaten by the kids for the other 16 meals a week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1057.

    The sad thing is we can't do anything about it."

    Oh yes we can! There are more of us than them. Fistly, if they ban lunch boxes, take the child out of school at midday. Tell them it's for feeding purposes and quote "choice" which politicians love.

    The if they steal food from lunch boxes, go and demand that the school refund the costs of the food, or sue them.

    People power!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1056.

    To the generation born this decade

    "We're very sorry. We know the mess you'll have to sort out when we're long gone. Melting ice caps; no energy, no trees, poisoned water, no food, no allies, no rain forest, no natural resources.

    But as the government of the day, we had to prioritise our actions. Making sure you didn't eat packed lunches 5 meals out of 21 each week seemed important at the time"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1055.

    People saying don't blame the teachers for a Govt policy: well perhaps, but it is the teachers who are searching lunchboxes, removing 'unhealthy' items, sending kids / letters home etc, AND it is teachers who are obsessed with the size and weight of kids, making them write poems and design posters about why it's bad to be fat / good to be skinny. Stick to teaching them to read, write, maths etc!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1054.

    If school packed meals are banned, what steps are taken to see that a child does not go hungry.Parents situatons vary so much that to have a school impose such a rule must cause many difficulies.
    The paramount rquirement must surely be to avoid the child from being hungry in school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1053.

    Got to have School Dinners!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1052.

    teachers going on strike again, isn’t that more damaging to a child?

    these public sector works, lazy and greedy.

    why bother getting an education, just get a low end job (tube, train driver) and strike your way to a more and more money, its works.

    Train and tube drivers earn more than professors and nurses, now that’s madness.

    silly little nation with silly little people

  • rate this

    Comment number 1051.

    Hors d'oeuvre .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1050.

    587. Kitty your experience of school meals was very like mine- i remember being served a plateful of potatoes because the "vegetarian" option had fish in it :( often the vegetarian meal was all carbs and high in fat low in protein, hardly balanced and not really what children need if they are to succeed at school

  • rate this

    Comment number 1049.

    What about people who make a packed lunch which is healthier than the food served at school? The government should keep their noses out of our children's lunch boxes and put them back in the trough.

    Have you seen the size of some of those back benchers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1048.

    My child eats a special high calorie/fat diet that is in line with her medical needs. As such, when she starts school in September she will be taking a packed lunch. This ridiculous policy is nothing more than a nanny state policy from a government that said they wanted to get rid of the nanny state. I will pull my child from any school that bans packed lunches or brings in unqualified teachers

  • rate this

    Comment number 1047.

    You can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Many children are picky eaters and "good nutritious" school dinners are not exactly appealing. Stupid idea.


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