Packed lunches v school meals

14 January 2020

At School Food Matters we believe that the very best lunch available to children at school is a hot, nutritionally balanced school meal.

New research from University of Leeds confirms that packed lunches are no match for a healthy school meal. The findings, published in the journal BMJ Open, showed that just 1.6% primary school packed lunches met the nutritional standards set for school meals, less than a fifth (17 per cent) contained any vegetables or salad, while more than half (52 per cent) contained too many sweet snacks. This is no surprise to SFM as we frequently spot crisps, chocolate bars and suspect sandwiches in the school dining hall. Ofsted's 2018 thematic review on childhood obesity listed chocolate, biscuits and cereal bars amongst the top four things most likely to be in a primary school packed lunch.

So how can we ensure that children enjoy a nutritious meal at lunchtime? Make your school a school meal school. This means that take-up of school meals is the norm, packed lunches the exception. We've seen many schools adopt an opt out policy, requiring parents to make a special request to opt out of school meals in favour of packed lunches. Many have gone further to ban packed lunches altogether.

But headteachers could do with some help here. 'Policing' packed lunches adds to their workload and can often create conflict between parents and the school. We believe that Government guidelines on packed lunches would allow schools to refer parents to the guidelines and take the heat out of the discussions. In 2016 SFM contributed to a position paper on guidelines for packed lunches for the All Party Parliamentary Group on school food. Perhaps it's time for government to take note!

In other news ...

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