Lunchtime changes giving you the chills?

It’s Halloween week – the perfect time to blog about some of the scary stories we’ve been emailed by parents in the last half term.

Three parents emailed us to say they were confused (and bemused) by the way their schools seemed to have started policies banning packed lunches with little warning or information, and about how they were using them.

One dad wrote to us to ask if this is allowed at all. Another father emailed to say his childrens’ school had refused to give them the packed lunches he’d sent them to school with, saying that they now had a policy of school meals only. When he checked the school’s lunch policy, this wasn’t mentioned anywhere. A mum dropped us a line to say she was in a similar dilemma.

Confused? Frustrated? Worried? So were these parents. We’re all agreed that we want children to have a good lunch at school: most teachers agree you can see the difference in a child’s ability to do well in class when they’ve eaten a decent meal (scientific studies show this too, including ours in primary and secondary schools, and this one which found that children in pilot areas where they were all able to have free school meals made up to 2 months more progress than their peers elsewhere).

That’s why our advice to every school is to be very clear about lunchtime policies, so that children’s nutrition doesn’t suffer. If your school’s thinking about starting something new at lunchtime or making a change, talk to parents about it first: see what they think, discuss any concerns they have and find a way to resolve them. Most important of all, keep parents informed – through your newsletter, your headteacher’s blog, your website, letters home, your Twitter feed – on any decisions that are made.

As a parent, if you’re not happy about lunchtime policies at your child’s school, you might want to start by talking to someone on the school’s leadership team (the head, the deputy or your child’s head of year) or to one of your school’s governors (parent governors are often a good start); they’re responsible for the policies in place at your child’s school. There’s strength in numbers, too, so see if other parents feel the same.

When it comes to policies which ban packed lunches, the Department of Education says that schools can set their own policies relating to food, and that can include requiring pupils to have a school lunch. But whatever the policy, the key is communicating it well.

Three top tips to remember:

Research shows school meals are more nutritious than the vast majority of packed lunches, which is why some schools opt not to allow lunchboxes at all
• Parents of children having school meals often report that it helps with fussy eating. In one survey we did, 8 out of 10 mums and dads whose children have school meals told us that they’ve tried something in school which they never eat at home
• Even if your child is still really fussy or isn’t making very good choices from the canteen, school cooks and lunchtime supervisors can be your greatest ally. Have a chat with them and see if they can help encourage your child to have a go of something new – even little tastes will help.

Claire’s one of our nutritionists. Email Claire here. For advice on starting new school food policies, visit our website or contact our team of advisors.

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