Opinion: Does the School Food Plan really ban packed lunches?

school mealsIf you’re an independent person involved in writing a report for Government, I offer some advice. Take a holiday for the week after the report’s published. Somewhere remote. Ideally without internet.

How else to avoid your blood-pressure shooting through the roof as the media – both social and traditional – ignore 99% of your work and misrepresent the rest?

For the latest example, look no further than the School Food Plan, a 149 page practical guide to improving the health and attainment of young people by improving their diet in school. It’s full of interesting research and good advice. It has a number of recommendations for Government. Most have been accepted. The one that hasn’t been is to make school meals free for all pupils – a good idea in principle, ministers say, but they’ll struggle to find the money.

Is that what the public conversation has been all about? I think you can guess.

For most of Friday I found my Twitter feed full of people outraged at a Big Brother-style Government plot to ban packed lunches. Depending on their point of view, it was an attack on parental freedom, Gove trying to sell off school meals to his wealthy mates, or some other theory about the evil Coalition Government.

There’s only one teeny problem – it’s utter rubbish. There is no such proposal in the report. Nowhere does it suggest the Government bans packed lunches, or even that schools ban packed lunches.

Here’s all it says (this is one of 38 recommendations and you can see it on page 136 of the report).

Make sure packed lunches are not a ‘better’ option. Ban sugary drinks, crisps and confectionery, or offer prizes and other incentives for bringing in a healthy lunch. Some schools ban packed lunches outright. If you want to do this, try starting with your newest intake (pupils in reception or year 7). The ban will then apply to all the years that follow them, until it extends to the whole school.

That’s it. No new rule. No Government diktat. The report points out that schools already have the power to ban packed lunches, that some schools have done so and gives advice to any others which might want to go down that path.

So when the journalist Susie Boniface, also known as @FleetStreetFox, writing in the Mirror, says:

“So they must be banned, he says. Not improved. Not guidelined. Not discussed. Just banned, like thought in China.”

it’s not entirely true. If we’re being honest, it’s not even very slightly true. It’s someone who either hasn’t bothered to even skim through the report they’re writing an article on, or feels minor details like the facts to be an annoying inconvenience.

You can read the report summary here and the full report here. And if you’re writing something similar for Government at the moment, I believe the Amazon rainforest can be very nice at this time of year.

* Iain Roberts is a Stockport councillor, LGA Peer and consultation, communications and public affairs consultant specialising in the built environment.

Read more by or more about , , , , , or .
This entry was posted in News.


  • Iain Roberts 13th Jul '13 - 2:04pm

    Hi Paul – you’re at it as well, I see. There is nothing at all in the report about forcing children to eat meat from TB infected cows, Halal meat or GM foods. (Please take a look at the report – if I’m mistaken and you can find a reference to any of those then do say).

  • I never really got the rationale to not only do away with school dinners but to also rip out the kitchens and build new schools without kitchens – even when the evidence was mounting for the value of school meals.

    I’m not saying that school meals prior to their abolition were of good quality, only that abolition was a quick and simple way of addressing a problem and reducing costs, without actually doing anything to benefit children.

    As we now know, spending money on school meals (breakfast and lunch) can deliver real and lasting benefits to parts of society that political vanity projects can never reach, and for significantly less money.

  • This is all rather confusing, I thought “let them eat cake” was official Tory policy.

  • Nice, to see the debate, I also think it’s good to see the debate extended to packed lunches, because big issues need wider discussions. Personally if the parents are active to provide packed lunches they aren’t too lazy to consider their child’s health.

  • “It was better used as library. ”
    Yes the school I’m involved with used their kitchen area to provide a pre-school, within the existing school buildings.

    I’m not blaming the schools for their efforts to make full use of their premises, particularly once government effectively removed the need for them to provide a midday meal; only I think Jamie Oliver did something that should of been done years previously (ie. by government before they effectively scrapped school dinners) and actually look at school lunches and ask if they really were fit for purpose and what was the real role/contribution of nutrition in a child’s schooling and hence gain an understanding of why a dwindling number of children were actually taking up the meals. The worrying thing is that Jamie’s School Dinners was broadcast in 2005 and we’re still seem to be moving at a glacial pace at really improving school dinners and helping children and parents understand healthier foods. So whilst the ‘advice’ is useful, hard money and policy commitment would help make things actually happen.

  • Patrick Smith 1st Aug '13 - 3:29pm

    As a professional Teacher,now retired from London`s most challenging schools, it is evident that the pupils require to know adequate food knowledge, at an early age in their development, as what constitutes a balanced diet.The year 9 pupils taking Food Technology-not compulsory in the national curriculum-would inculcate sufficient awareness in healthy food that would also include how to plan a packed school lunch.

    All pupils should know how to plan a balanced and nutritious and non-fattening family diet that contains ,vegetables and salad and is capable of being consumed as healthy eating and appetising to the palate.

    JT has the right focus on how to prepare a healthy packed lunch for children and is absolutely aware that it must contain fruit and vegetables and salad that schools should also provide and advise their community to eat at lunch as well.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Andrew Hickey
    So Tristan's arguments boil down to: 1) Free speech. Which is not infringed in any way by the party saying that it doesn't want members who don't agree with it...
  • Martin
    Mick Taylor: I am not sure what you are responding to. My point is about a distinction between isolated and non-isolated systems. This is pertinent to your ...
  • Denis Mollison
    "finding a workable solution" I think the simplest and most liberal solution would be not to attempt to have our own definitions of offences such as transpho...
  • William
    It's a wee bit disappointing that the first thing that someone on Fed Board posted on this thread closes ranks and defends Fed Board's decision. It would seem m...
  • Alexandra
    If what motivated the Federal Board is the risk of being sued by transphobes, it sounds to me like trans people need to show that we can be just as litigious....