Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Does your child’s lunch pack a nutritional punch?

with 11 comments

There was quite a bit of hoo-ha this week about the state of children’s packed lunches.

Apparently, just one per cent of those surveyed were considered to be “healthy”.

About one-quarter of the 1,300 lunches taken to school by eight and nine-year-olds examined by researchers at the University of Leeds contained sweets, savoury snacks and sugary drinks.

These food items were banned by the government in 2006 when it introduced new rules on prepared meals for local authority schools in England.

Healthy school lunches caused much hand-wringing. Chips and turkey twizzlers might have gone, but the sticky problem of the packed lunch remains.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=packed+lunch&iid=3600249″ src=”3/2/f/5/Packed_Lunch_f8eb.jpg?adImageId=8992534&imageId=3600249″ width=”234″ height=”183″ /]

The study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that:

  • Few contained all the nutrients needed to consider it a balanced meal (starch, vegetables, protein, dairy and fruit);
  • Few had foods containing vitamin A, zinc, folate, iron;
  • Many contained sugary drinks and sweets;
  • Many lunches were low in fibre;
  • Many had high salt.

What should happen to the “persistent offenders” who repeatedly foist packets of crisps, cartons of squash and sweets on their offspring?

Should schools intervene? Would headteachers be accused of imposing some kind of nanny state?

It is a thorny subject – and very difficult to get right. Many schools have signed up to the Healthy Schools campaign, so anything that compromises it should be tackled. Head on.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=sandwiches&iid=6037602″ src=”c/7/d/6/KIDSLUNCH_bc1b.JPG?adImageId=8992608&imageId=6037602″ width=”234″ height=”239″ /]Parents, however, don’t like to be dictated to. Especially those who don’t care what food they provide for their families.

Schools have a duty of care, but many headteachers are nervous of telling parents off about the content of their darlings’ Spongebob and Barbie boxes. Offering advice on where to find help on healthy packed lunches is all very well, but what do you say to the parents who believe a strawberry lollypop comprises one of your five-a-day?

At some schools I have visited, lunchtime supervisors do keep a close eye on the packed lunches that are brought in.

If they spot a child whose meal consists of a bit of processed slimy ham and crackers, a packet of sweets and a pack of crisps, they report to the headteacher. If it is a regular occurrence, he/she is likely to write to the parents about the inadequacy of its contents.

Is that a good thing to do? I’d love to know what you think.

The problem is that those who do try to offer a balanced lunch are also being labelled as bad for including the odd nutritionally-dubious snack.

A 25g bag of salt and vinegar crisps contains 131 calories (74.7 from fat) and 8g of fat. There is a whopping 200mg of sodium (salt), carbs account for 12.5g and protein 1.6g.

(source: http://fatsecret.com/calories-nutrition/walkers/salt-and-vinegar-crisps)

By comparison, a 102g serving of roast potatoes, made according to the recipe provided by the Schools Food Trust, contains 132 calories and has 7.1g fat. Carbs come in at 16.2g and sodium 7mg. There is 1.7g of protein.

(source: http://www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk/UploadDocs/Contents/Documents/george_dixon_primary_example_compliant_menu.pdf)

Is sodium is the issue here because calorie/fat/carbs-wise, there isn’t that much in it?

Before I’m accused of cherry picking my potato recipe, I will say that the Schools Food Trust’s nutritional standards include other starch-based foods that have lower fat/calories etc – including the dreaded potato waffle that I have bemoaned the return of in Walsall.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=sandwiches&iid=1276263″ src=”f/a/9/6/Parents_Call_For_d97b.jpg?adImageId=8992944&imageId=1276263″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]

I can’t honestly see a problem with including a cake or treat (not a packet of sweets or a bar of chocolate) if the rest of the meal is balanced.

My children often find a chocolate biscuit, a slice of cake (homemade or shop bought) or half a bag of crisps in their lunch. But they have fruit and/or vegetables, sometimes a yoghurt, as well as sandwiches. If they leave the fruit, they don’t get a treat the next day and get double fruit. This is also flawed: I’m using fruit as a punishment, aren’t I?

If schools are cooking delicious-sounding puddings such as flapjacks (which has sugar and golden syrup) and chocolate cracknell – made with cocoa, golden syrup and sugar – then I refuse to be the villain of the piece.

But, then, I’m not the one being targeted here. Am I? I might be surprised …

Photographs from PicApp

Written by CommonPeople

January 14, 2010 at 10:24 pm

11 Responses

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  1. this is a sore subjct with me our schoolinspects lunches,which is ok until the end of the month and i find i have nothing in, But when i get a bad sticker of which i havent any as i would show you,then meet the teachers in the garage at lunchtime armed with chocolate it annoys me, and further more the food they serve at our school is transported 3 miles from another school.On the rare occasions that the girls have a school dinner and i have paid £1.85 to find that they havent eaten enough to feed a fly,i get annoyed.I do see that some children are not getting enough of the right food groups but some of us try

    marcy@mumumumumum

    January 14, 2010 at 10:39 pm

  2. Thanks for your comment, Marcy.

    I’ve already documented my disdain about cooked school dinners – with the carb-heavy and pastry-laden menus – but I also find the children are really hungry after they have had one as the portions are sometimes small and they are only allowed one vegetable.

    It is hard when you suddenly find the cupboard bare and you have to provide two lunches (been there more times than I care to mention).

    Does your school really give out stickers if the packed meals are bad? Wow – that’s the ultimate name and shame. Can’t say I approve of that.

    jaynehowarth

    January 14, 2010 at 10:48 pm

  3. nowhere do i see the issue of children’s rights to privacy ever discussed. don’t they have any? do we totally expect that if you are aged under 18, then any passing member of staff or visiting journalist can poke about inside your dinner?

    as adults, would we expect that? is there is a dinner supervisor who comes to your office desk, judges your sandwich and consequently declares, on the strength of it, that no one can possibly care about you, and that your household must be slovenly, badly organised, uncaring and unfit?

    why do parents accept this judgment and intrusion into their lives and the assault on the privacies of their children?

    grit

    January 15, 2010 at 9:50 am

  4. Really torn on this one. So rather than offer a solution just want to raise how lack of active supervision in my son’s school enabled him to jettison most of his lunch into a bin every day, then fill up on rubbish at the tuck shop using his pocket money. Fortunately one of his real friends spotted this and mentioned it to his mum who mentioned it to me so I could tackle it with him. A few years ago now but I suppose what I’m saying is we share responsibility for our children, but it’s hard to act when you don’t have the information.

    Jane Matthews

    January 15, 2010 at 10:09 am

  5. I’m not a parent, and the ‘rights’ of children isn’t a subject I care for, but in this case I’d consider it the parent’s rights are being impinged. I fail to see what business it is of a school what a child has in their lunches. As with so many things, this is the responsibilty of the parent(s) and no-one else. The school’s responsibility it to teach.

    As for the ‘bad stickers’? Surely not? If I were a parent and my child came home with one, I would be having strong words along the lines of ‘mind your own business’.

    Turning to the nutrition itself: Surely it’s a case of just being sensible- don’t send your kid with a pot noodle & crisps every day (though several of my schoolfriends did have that many days, and chips on the others, and didn’t drop dead or turn obese), but crisps, cake, or chocolate as part of a reasonably balanced lunch isn’t going to hurt anyone.

    There’s also the point that you have to provide something the kids will eat, and as already said, we all have bad days where there’s nothing the food police approve of in the house.

    stymaster

    January 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

  6. Grit, Jane and Stymaster: Privacy is an interesting point, but with the number of children in the UK living in poverty (not all of whom will be having free school lunches), the concern is for their welfare.

    Should the need for privacy override children’s welfare? Malnourishment is a welfare issue and schools have to be mindful of their role (even though schools have far too many roles to fulfil).

    Headteachers aren’t social workers, but children’s welfare does come top of their agenda. It’s all part and parcel of the Every Child Matters agenda.

    If a child was hungry because his/her lunches were inadequate, it can lead to poorer performance academically.

    Would I rather have intervention from a school or turn a blind eye to a child that is hungry and/or poorly fed? On the surface it is easy to say that a school must intervene, but each case has to be looked at separately. A judgment has to be made about each case: none of the issues can be treated in isolation.

    Adults are responsible for children. In general, adults make their own choices in life. Children are affected by the decisions we make for them.

    Privacy is one thing. But welfare of the child comes higher up my agenda.

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’d be really interested in reading others’ opinions on this. It certainly is not a black and white issue.

    jaynehowarth

    January 15, 2010 at 10:24 am

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JayneHowarth, JayneHowarth, JayneHowarth, JayneHowarth, danslee and others. danslee said: RT @JayneHowarth: BLOG POST packing your children's lunch boxes? Should schools decide if they are good enough? http://bit.ly/62fE8d […]

  8. Having suffered from an eating disorder, food is something I can’t be bothered to make a fuss about. My approach is to pay scant attention to it.

    Jo Ind

    January 15, 2010 at 12:55 pm

  9. Thanks for your comment, Jo.
    I guess the issue here is how you would feel if Arch’s school (when he goes!) sent you a letter or called you into the office to discuss the inadequacies of his packed lunch.
    Do you have a right to send in whatever you like (a meal of crisps, a chocolate bar and some sweets) or is the welfare of the child such that a school should intervene and offer help/advice on a nutritious lunch?
    What do you mean by scant attention? To what you feed yourself and your son? Or to the “hysteria” surrounding the issue of nutrition and what is considered – in the broadest terms – right and wrong?

    jaynehowarth

    January 15, 2010 at 1:18 pm

  10. As my daughter has school dinners I don’t tend to think about packed lunches, but she did take them once, when her first school weren’t offering meals that she liked. I got very annoyed once when a letter came home from the Head telling me (and other parents apparently) exactly what we should be putting into our kids lunch boxes. My daughter ended up going to school with food she didn’t eat just because she wasn’t allowed to eat food she liked. Thing was, I was putting a mixture of savoury and sweet items into the box, making sure she got something to eat and would therefore not be tired, grumpy, hungry and not to mention lethargic, in the afternoon. All the school wanted to do was dictate to the parents. Or so it felt. When the Head left, I put things in her box that she actually liked and therefore ate and we never received any letters.

    It is a difficult debate to have. Some parents don’t care what their kids eat; others do. Schools obviously have a duty to ensure kids have a healthy and well-balanced meal so I can understand their concerns. But as a parent of a child who is quite finicky, it can sometimes become very stressful trying to find a happy medium.

    CJ xx

    Crystal Jigsaw

    January 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm

  11. Thanks for taking the time to comment CJ.

    A dictatorial Head is not the way forward. There has to be understanding and empathy – even if they do believe that children should have only certain items in their lunches.

    One size does not fit all. I read the Annabel Karmels of this world with their suggestions to lunches and wonder what planet they live on.

    My two wouldn’t countenance the idea of hummous and salad in a wholemeal wrap – the moan enough when I give them wholemeal bread (and they leave the crusts).

    One other issue, that has only just occurred to me, is that the lunches get warm and icky – even if you put an ice pack in. Ambient yoghurts and sweaty cheese sarnies aren’t exactly appetising, are they?!

    It’s a tough one for schools, admittedly, but I still believe some guidance may be necessary for some. You just have to tackle it exceptionally carefully.

    jaynehowarth

    January 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm


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