BAN packed lunches #TruePrue

BAN packed lunches

Prue replies to various comments about her comments on packed lunchboxes.

It would be mad to ban lunch boxes on its own, however, if the government adopted ALL my recommendations (which are shared by many people working in the field) then banning lunchboxes would be a help. But it has to be a co-ordinated approach.

My Top 10 Recommendations 

  1. That school lunch hour (and it should be an hour or at least 40 minutes) be part of the curriculum, ie, an opportunity to teach children how to eat, and it would be the school’s responsibility to see that they do. By the time a child leaves primary school, he or she would be expected to accept AND ENJOY a healthy diet. Of course, lunchtime should be a pleasant break that doesn’t feel like a lesson but the students would be learning never the less because:
  2. They should have the time and space to sit down for lunch
  3. They would all be eating the same meal with knife and fork (I agree that cafeteria “choice” is rubbish. Kids are conservative and they will always eat what they know and like, ie, pizza or pasta. The healthy “option” is never chosen unless children have learnt to like it. Of course, there must be provision for special diets.
  4. Lunch (and snacks at break) should be a healthy, made from fresh food, cooked on site or by a nearby hub and not contain over-processed ingredients.
  5. Each day the menu would be different so children learn to like a varied diet.
  6. Things like co-operation, sharing, consideration, and helping would be encouraged.
  7. All children up to the age of 14 would learn to cook (this is indeed government policy but many schools ignore it).
  8. Children would learn about food by growing, in science, in geography, in history etc.
  9. Bringing food into schools would be banned because children need to be a bit hungry in order to try new foods. If they are full of biscuits and crisps the caterers don’t stand a chance.
  10. School meals, both breakfast and lunch, should be free, at least in Primary.

The argument that this is all pie in the sky does not wash. Other countries, notably Finland, do all this and, guess what their educational attainment is much higher than ours. When I visited the country, admittedly a good while ago, I was amazed. Learning to eat was part of the curriculum and it was led by the teachers, who had to see that children, by the time they were eleven enjoyed a healthy diet and by the time they were sixteen they understood and enjoyed a range of other cuisines including Italian, Indian, French, Chinese etc.

And the average cost of school lunches was lower than ours because there was no waste, all the children ate it, the dining rooms were pleasant places to be, the kitchens equipped with the latest kit so staffing was low and efficient.

Of course I know, after 40 years of lobbying, that none of this is going to happen until Government realises that UNLESS they get a grip on the nation’s tastebuds, the cost of obesity and other diet-related problems is going to sink the NHS. It’s no good saying it’s up to the parents. We have lost the battle with a great swathe of parents who themselves were not taught to eat well or to cook, and consequently eat too much junk.

I was at a primary school a month or so ago, invited there by Henry Dimbleby and Thomasina Miers who started a charity “Chefs in Schools” to encourage restaurant chefs to become school cooks. This state primary, in the East End of London, was serving sharing platters of vegetarian dips, curries and salads and feta, with home-baked bread, followed by plain yoghurt and fresh fruit. The chef had only been there a term, but he teaches the children about food as well as cooking for them, the staff eat with the children and lunchtime is a pleasure. The Head Teacher, hugely supportive, cannot credit the speed of change. Of course it’s easier in Primary, and its only ever possible if the head teacher believes that good food will improve grades. But those children, without a doubt, have learned to like good food. Sometimes it takes repeated doses before a child will accept, say, spinach or broccoli. But the good news is that few people ever unlike something. Think how long it took you to like a glass of wine! Even if they get wooed into chips and pot noodles for a while when they get into secondary, I don’t believe they will make it their diet for life.

There are other examples. The Food for Life Scheme run by the Soil Association is working with thousands of schools to do the very things I’ve been banging on about. But it’s a crying shame that the good stuff is being done by charities, and is voluntary. If it was led by government and compulsory, we’d fix the problem in a generation. After all, no one is allowed to decide what their child learns in chemistry or maths. I want eating to be a lesson!

An enjoyable one, but a lesson nonetheless.


‘Make food and lunch breaks part of the school day, introduce new flavours and healthy choices.’
- Prue Leith