Our PhunkyFoods Healthy Lunch message highlights to children the importance of choosing a healthy, well balanced school lunch; whether that's a hot school meal or a packed lunch brought in from home.
At the end of this page you will find a PDF version of this information. You can download it, print it out and stick it on your fridge or noticeboard to help you and your family plan healthier choices at lunch time.
School meals & the School Food Standards
In July 2013 the School Food Plan was published by the Department for Education. As part of that plan a new set of standards for all foods served in schools was launched and became mandatory in all maintained schools and new academies and free schools from January 2015. And in September 2014 universal free school meals (UFSM) were introduced to all infant pupils across England.
The new standards were designed to make it easier for school cooks to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious menus. As a result of the new school food standards, and of the UFSM scheme, many infant, primary and junior schools across England have improved their school meal offering. That said, we are aware from our daily work in schools that the school meal experience differs enormously across the UK, and that many schools continue to face challenges with their school meal service. However, evidence has repeatedly shown that school meals are of higher nutritional quality than packed lunches (1), and universal free school meals do appear to improve primary school educational attainment (2) - so why not give them a try? If your child(ren) hasn't tried it already, or it's been a while since they tried school meals, perhaps it's to give them a go?
Many parents opt to send their child(ren) to school with a packed lunch. The first thing to consider is whether or not your school has a packed lunch policy, and these come in all sorts of shapes and sizes! It's important to remember one thing: a packed lunch policy hasn't been put in place to make your life harder. They are generally put in place for very positive and reasonable reasons. For example: to promote consistency between packed lunches and foods provided by school; to make a positive contribution to children's health, or; to encourage children to be calmer and on-task during the afternoons.
We have many parents who talk to us about issues with school packed lunch policies, who perhaps don't like it that schools are policing lunchboxes or who just simply don't want to be told what they can or cannot put in their child's lunch, and this can be a very sensitive subject. Our advice is that the school food standards are there to support schools in helping children to learn and make healthier food choices in school. If you want to give your child an item that's not allowed under the school's packed lunch policy then perhaps it can wait until after school? The school is responsible for your child's learning whilst at school and they need children to be well-fueled and on-task for their afternoon lessons - so please try and be supportive where you can!
How to pack a well balanced lunch box - focus on the food groups
To be in-line with the School Food Standards a reasonable school packed lunch policy might look something like this:
Packed lunches should include:
- at least one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables every day.
- meat, fish, eggs, or a non-dairy protein (e.g. lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, houmous, peanut butter, falafel) every day.
- oily fish, such as salmon, at least once every three weeks.
- a starchy food such as any type of bread, pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, potatoes or another cereal every day.
- a dairy food such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais or custard every day.
- a drink of water, fruit juice or smoothie (maximum portion 150ml), or semi-skimmed milk or skimmed milk, yoghurt or another milk drink.
Packed lunches can occasionally include:
- meat products such as sausage rolls, individual pies, corned meat and sausages.
- cakes and biscuits, but encourage your child to eat these as part of a meal, and be mindful of appropriate portion sizes.
Packed lunches should not include:
- salty snacks such as crisps.
- confectionery such as chocolate bars, chocolate-coated cereal bars, processed fruit bars and sweets.
- sugary soft drinks, such as squash and fizzy drinks.
Further information and support
(1) Evans, CE, Greenwood, DC, Thomas, JD, Cade, JE. A cross-sectional survey of children's packed lunches in the UK: food- and nutrient-based results. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 64 (11). 977 - 983.
(2) Brown, V. et al. (2012) Evaluation of the Free School Meals Pilot: Impact Report. Nation Centre for Social Research (NatCen), the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Bryson Purdon Social Research.