packed lunches

Parents may soon be banned from feeding their kids the way they want to, under new government proposals.

A report commissioned by the Department for Education said that parents should not be allowed to have control over what their kids eat during school time, over fears that it may not be “healthy”.

Instead, the report says, parents should instead be made to purchase school meals as the “healthier option”.

The report claims that since Jamie Oliver’s high profile campaign, school meals have become healthier but take-up of school dinners is low at 43 per cent with children eating packed lunches instead.

It alleges that just one per cent of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards of school food with many containing unhealthy options such as crisps, sweets and chocolate.

In other words, parents cannot be trusted to feed their own children, so the government should take over that process instead.

The report, although government sponsored, was drawn up by private entrepreneurs from the restaurant chain Leon.

In fact, the co-founder of the Leon restaurant Mr Dimbleby was barely able to disguise his real motivation for suggesting that packed lunches should be banned when he told BBC’s radio 4 programme: “Canteens are a bit like a restaurant – if you’re half empty, you’re losing money.

“The more children you have in, the better food you can serve at a cheaper price. The best schools – the schools that have good food – find ways of making packed lunch the less exciting option. Some of them ban packed lunch altogether.”

They suggest parents should spend the £1.2billion that annually goes on packed lunches on school meals instead, and double the take-up percentage over five years.

In February 2012, the Financial Times reported that Leon has hired Brad Blum, former Burger King chief executive, to advise on expansion plans. They have also signed a deal with US-based HMSHost to open their first two franchised outlets in the United States.

At present, the majority of pupils – 57 per cent – take a packed lunch or buy food outside of school, regardless of whether they eat a school meal or not. Currently school meals cost £140 million in school subsidies and their provision in England will only break even if average take-up rises above 50 per cent.

Sharon Hodgson MP, shadow children’s minister agreed but added that current meal standards in some schools do not meet expectations.

She added: “Labour vastly improved the quality of school food after Jamie Oliver’s important campaign. Prime minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove have deliberately undermined that progress by exempting academies and free schools from Labour’s rules, and junk food has crept back into canteens and vending machines.”

But only last year, a nine year old girl called Martha Payne sparked a media storm when she posted pictures of the inedible and unhealthy meals served at her school.

Her blog, Neverseconds attracted over a million views. School meal standards also do not apply to academies and free schools, who will be able to opt out of any minimum standards set by the government.

It is also unclear whether school meals will account for those with vegan, halal, lactic/gluten free diets or those who have medical conditions which require certain flavourings/ingredients to be left out of the food.

Meals for one child can cost parents up to £85 per term in a normal state school, while many parents complain about the oily chips, cheap quality meat, overcooked vegetables, GMO food and sugary desserts that are served up as part of normal school meals, but considered “healthy” and “balanced” by the government.

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