School Lunchbox Rules and Ideas
If there’s one area that is frequently discussed among parents and teachers but has no clear solution in place, it is the topic of school lunchboxes. Many believe that poor quality lunches are a big part of the growing obesity epidemic and some schools are taking dramatic steps to deal with the problems. Others believe that parents need to be better informed about what they should give their kids for lunch. So what are the rules and ideas to make for a better, healthier lunch?
There are plenty of horror stories around about the worst possible school lunchbox ideas. One school in Buckinghamshire reported finding a child who had been sent to school with a cold McDonald’s meal as their lunchbox. Other kids had nothing in the box apart from a whole packet of biscuits. This led the school to take the radical step of banning lunchboxes and ensuring that all children eat school meals.
Under the government policy of Universal Infant Free School Meals, all children at the school qualify for free school lunches, regardless of parental income. So the school decided to enforce this on the students and the head teacher, Rosemarie Jones, wrote a letter to all parents explaining the move. She also pointed out that there are significant potential cash savings for the parents, in the region of £500 a year, by using the scheme to feed their kids.
Yet some parents complained still. One example, unnamed, said that her child won’t eat anything if they can’t have a packed lunch from home so believed the rule was unfair. Others disliked the removal of freedom of choice, stopping parents decided what they wanted for their kids.
Should lunchboxes be banned?
Nor is this school the only one either banning or considering banning lunchboxes. The School Food Plan review discovered that only 43% of children have a school lunch, despite the work that has been put in to improve the quality and nutrition of these meals. The review said that head teachers should ensure that school meals are a better option than lunchboxes by banning sugary drinks, crisps and confectionary foods. They even suggested prizes or incentives to kids that bring a healthy lunch to school.
Another idea is to cut the cost of school meals to encourage more parents to opt for them when they do have to pay. Free meals for junior schools is being urged across the country and this could see another three million kids qualify for free dinners.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is one outspoken fan of the free school meals system as long as the meals are healthy. Some have quoted figures showing that children have actually become fatter since eating school meals but there is some belief these figures have been overstated.
Should food be confiscated?
Rather than banning the lunchbox and enforcing the school meal, others are suggesting that teachers should have the ability to confiscate foods from the lunchbox that are classed as unhealthy. The government already allow teachers to remove any items from a lunchbox if they are viewed as unhealthy or inappropriate but there is some confusion as to what classifies as this.
Parents in one school were furious recently when scotch eggs and a Peperami were taken from kids under the ruling. One school in Colchester banned junk food from lunchboxes yet parents argued that the school meals menu contained sugary desserts such as cookies, mousse and flapjacks.
Another school in Manchester banned the eating of cereal bars despite having pizza, chocolate fudge cake and fish fingers on their own school menu. The mother of the child who had their cereal bar confiscated said the school told her it was because it contained ‘hidden sugar’.
Teachers are told to conduct these inspections with another teacher present as well as the pupil and to seek legal advice if they are concerned about the policy.
Others take the view that the solution isn’t about banning or confiscating foods but educating parents on what constitutes a healthy lunchbox and what they should include in it to give their kids the best meal.
In the US, there is also a big move towards giving parents the information to create healthy lunches. This can include elements such as baking batches of food to freeze such as whole gain muffins or breads as well as healthier cookies. A big emphasis is placed on what the food looks like because tasty looking food is more likely to be eaten by the kids – hence the reason that sugary foods are always popular.
Filling a box with veggies sticks and a little amount of a yoghurt dip or hummus are ideas discussed along with healthy crackers with toppings, fruit smoothies and sandwiches made with pitta bread rather than normal white bead. Even leftovers such as grilled chicken breasts cut into sticks or nuggets and served with a dip are easy to make options.
Websites such as Change4Life offer a rota of school lunchbox meal ideas to get the right stuff into the kids but to keep the menu varied. There is also a range of recipes on the site to make with the kids and then send into school for their lunch.
Why it matters
While the growing concerns about childhood obesity are at the centre of these concerns, there are other reasons why a good, healthy school lunch is a benefit to children. For starters, eating the right foods can boost the metabolism, making the children feel more energetic and increasing their concentration. This leads to better results in class.
By making all children eat school lunches, there can be a stop to the problem of some children feeling left out when eating a school meal versus a ‘fun looking’ lunchbox filled with poor nutritional foods. Let’s face it, kids love what isn’t good for them and if they see their friends eating fun, sugary foods, they don’t want to eat their own healthy lunch.
Whether banning, confiscating or educating is the way forward, it is clear that a plan needs to be in place to help our kids have a happy, healthy lunch that sets them up well for the rest of the day.