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Should schools dictate what goes in your child's lunchbox?

201 replies

JustineMumsnet · 02/02/2009 16:35

Hi all,
We've been asked by the Press Association to comment on the Packed Lunch Policy, which advises that lunch boxes should include at least one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables every day and should avoid crisps, chocolate bars, biscuits and sweets. Maybe you've been told off for putting a treat in your child's lunchbox? Or maybe you're pleased that government's helping you stand up to pester power? Do you think the guidelines necessary/useful? (Thanks in advance)

Here's why they are asking:

By Rosa Silverman, Press Association

(ADVISORY: First ran yesterday under embargo)

Page 1: 02:47

Nearly two thirds of parents believe schools should not dictate what they put in their children's lunch boxes, according to new research released today.

The Government's School Food Trust (SFT) has issued advice on the subject and early last year drew up a Packed Lunch Policy schools could use.

But a survey suggests parents resent such intervention, with 64% saying schools should not tell them what to put in their children's packed lunches.

Just 10% of parents interviewed admitted that their children were not eating the healthy lunch they packed for them, the study by consumer researchers Mintel found.

Emmanuelle Bouvier, senior consumer analyst at Mintel, said: "Mums and dads may feel insulted at the assumption that they don't know what to put into a simple packed lunch.

"Many parents choose packed lunches precisely because it gives them greater control over what their child eats - much more so than with school dinners.

"These new guidelines clearly take this control away and understandably this is putting people's backs up."

But the survey also suggested that parents had been making healthier food choices for their children since the Government published its guidelines.

In 2006, before the latest initiatives were introduced, 66% of mothers said they tried to give their children a mixture of healthy food and treats.

In the latest survey this number rose to 86% of parents.

Nearly three quarters of parents (71%) thought school dinners were healthier than they used to be.

The SFT said its packed lunch guidance was intended to help schools work with parents to ensure as many children as possible received the fuel they needed to stay healthy and alert.

A spokesman said: "Our research has clearly shown that the average packed lunch is not as nutritionally sound as a school dinner which is, of course, now subject to rigorous standards.

"It is up to individual schools to adopt policies of their own but many parents have told us that school meals can take away the worry of putting together a packed lunch because they are nutritionally balanced."

The guidelines include advice that lunch boxes should include at least one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables every day and should avoid crisps, chocolate bars, biscuits and sweets.

:: A sample of 532 parents or guardians of children aged four to 16 were interviewed.


OP posts:
mollyroger · 02/02/2009 16:36


DisasterArea · 02/02/2009 16:37


mrsmaidamess · 02/02/2009 16:38

No, schools should not dictate what goes in lunch boxes.

They can promote healthy choices, perhaps by showing what a healthy lunchbox COULD lok like. But they should not have rules about it.

But children need calories...a few carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes just won't work.

Also, who's to say the child with the white bread jam sandwich in his lunch box doesn't have porridge with wholemeal toast for breakfast, and a full roast dinner with vegetables for tea?

CarGirl · 02/02/2009 16:38

The big issue I have with the above is that you asked not to put biscuits or cakes in the packed lunch whilst school dinners have a high calorie pudding with them!!!! I would love my dc to have school dinners but can't afford them, I need to provide a reasonably priced lunch suitable for leaving sat in a box for 4 hours that also contains enough calories to keep them going and fairly quick to eat.

TotalChaos · 02/02/2009 16:38


herbietea · 02/02/2009 16:40

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn

mollyroger · 02/02/2009 16:42

exactly car girl. Just how unhealthy is home made flapjack? Or homemade otalmeal and raisin cookies? - yet that would constiute a 'forbidden' cake/biscuit under those criteria.

My boys are active, skinny, clear-ckinned, damp of nose, tail-waggingly healthy so actually, I do reserve the right to throw in a bag of crisps once a week if I bloody well want to.

Their andwiches are always made with wholemeal bread, they always have fruit and fruit juice, and often have carrot sticks/cucumber/peppers as well.

Smithagain · 02/02/2009 16:43

No, they shouldn't. They should keep an eye on them, and perhaps have conversations with parents who genuinely do send nothing but crisps and mars bars. But otherwise they should let parents be parents.

And they definitely shouldn't ban chocolate and cakes when there is chocolate sponge etc on the school dinner menu.

muppetgirl · 02/02/2009 16:43

I haven't had experience of this (and are probably talking out of my arse) but I have read threads on here about it.

I can understand that school plays a role in educating children as to what is healthy to eat and, if needs be, parents too. What I do object to is children having their lunchboxes searched and if anything is found to contravene the 'guidelines' then the child is not allowed to eat it and has to tell their parent they weren?t allowed to eat it as it wasn?t healthy. This is really sending a message that, ?Don?t worry children, school can save you from your parents??

I believe that schools should have a dialogue directly with parents and not through children as this could undermine how food is thought of at home.

I also get the impression that there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what constitutes 'healthy' with anything that has sugar/fat in it is bad and anything fruit is good.

TotalChaos · 02/02/2009 16:47

agree muppetgirl. If there are issues with particularly children being sent in with a bag of crisps and nothing else every day then school should have a word with parents.

littleducks · 02/02/2009 16:48

my instinct is 'no' but the schools are already enforcing their own rules atm, some of which are really baadly thought out, like cheese and milk are unhealthy for children, so perhaps something nutritionally sound to educate the teachers and dinner ladies would help

Gorionine · 02/02/2009 16:49

School should not dictate what goes in lunch boxes.
CarGirl I had issues with the school for this very reason. I also got told the I could not give cereal bars as they are to sweet. I complained and was then told it was ok to give ceral bar for dessert but not for break I was really baffled and told that it did not matter to me in what order Dcs eat the food I prepare for them as long as they eat all of it, have had no problems since.

It is very ennoying to have to jutifie what you give to your food policies take absolutely no account of what the children life style is!

TheCrackFox · 02/02/2009 16:50

No, as the standard of school dinners at my DS1s school are beyond a joke. Reheated slops and lowfat yogurt for pudding (all for the bargain price of £1.75 but the actual ingredients must cost 40p ), yuck .

They need to get their own house in order (never going to happen) before they start lecturing parents.

Ivykaty44 · 02/02/2009 16:50

No, let teachers teach and parents pack the lunch box.

ladycornyofsilke · 02/02/2009 16:53


dsrplus8 · 02/02/2009 16:53

no. have special high calorie diet for dd4 thats been carefully drawn up by her dietition. includes crisps, chocolate and all things fattening. my point is what is healthy for one child is unsuitable for another and most "healthier" drinks/ snacks for kids are full of aspiritime and other garbage.....sugar is better for kids according to peadiatric rather listen to someone who knows a bit more about nutrition than an education board.

Coldtits · 02/02/2009 16:53

the "Balanced school lunch" is what happens as long as your child is first in the queue, and everything on the menu is available, and he/she makes good choices.

If these 3 circumstances are NOT the circumstances in which your child gets a school lunch, your child could end up with mashed potaot, a vegetable you KNOW they don't eat (and won't have eaten), bread and butter, and sponge and custard or "A crunchy cookie" (a fucking biscuit, which was happening far too often).

How the hell is that better than a ham and ucumber sandwich, some cheese, 2 chocolate biscuits, an apple and some crisps? Food isn't better for you because it's hot, you know.

Until the schools can deliver a better, more complete healthy eating message than bleating "Sugar is baaaaaad, fat is baaaaaaad" at terrified four year olds who then refuse to have any butter on their vegetables, until the school can provide a more nutritious hot lunch than what basically amounts to a hot potato sandwich and a biscuit, until they are going to stop charging me £1.80 for my 5 year old to stand in line until their's not meat and no carrots left, I will be preparing and, yes, choosing my child's lunch, and I do not consider that the school have any say whatsoever unless they suspect it is a child protection issue.

I have met the dinner supervisors at ds1's school. I went to school with some of them. There's only 2 I'd trust to find their arse's with both hands.

hercules1 · 02/02/2009 16:54

Having seen teh crap that alot of parents send in as packed lunches I can see the point of their being a guidance but not a dictation.

Tidey · 02/02/2009 16:56

I have no argument with schools banning chocolate bars and fizzy drinks (unless there's a special reason why a child needs them like the poster above), but anything beyond that is ridiculous. I see nothing wrong with a child occasionally having jam in their sandwiches, for example, but some schools would.

motherinferior · 02/02/2009 16:56

I think that is a perfectly sensible lunchbox policy, actually, and I'm perfectly happy with it.

dsrplus8 · 02/02/2009 16:56

ive also a complaint about school dinners, kids always comehome starving after having them....not enough to feed a toddler, never mind hungry 9yr boy or let alone the teenagers!

Blu · 02/02/2009 16:57


Guidelines is fine. Evan a ban in school on sweets and fizzy drinks. BUT...

Luncboxes, policed, is a completely unfair and inappropriate responsibility for schools to take on, and will lead to wastage, and a complete contempt for any school / home relationship.

I would explode with fury if I was TOLD there must be fruit and veg in DS's lunch. A packed lunch represents 5 out of 35 meals a week. DS eats fruit with his breakfast and loads of cooked veg with his tea - and cooked veg for lunch at w/e. His lunchbox only occasionally has any fruit and veg content, but it has 'good' sandwiches.

How DARE they tell me exactly how to feed my child when school dinners include a horrible pudding, AND they are told they can't have butter on the slices of (white sliced) bread because it has too much fat?

onager · 02/02/2009 16:57


Saggarmakersbottomknocker · 02/02/2009 16:58

Most schools don't 'search' lunch boxes (well ours doesn't ). The lunchtime supervisors do keep an eye on what the children bring in though and it's not unusual for some of our children to just have sweets, chocolate and crisps. As a school we have a healthy eating policy and sweets (not chocolate) and fizzy drinks are banned but other than that we don't have strict rules as to what parents should put in. Personally I don't think a jam sandwich is the crime of the century, but there are parents out there who don't know/don't care what constitutes a decent packed lunch.

Saggarmakersbottomknocker · 02/02/2009 17:02

And I do think that if the government is serious about children's diets that they should put proper kitchens back into schools. Ours is a new school and doesn't have a proper kitchen, the food is cooked/chilled/reheated and there's no comparison to the standard of meals served in our old building by our wonderful cook.

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