As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon has published a cross-party supported position paper on packed lunches in schools which comes ahead of the publication of the Government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy.
The position paper sets out the need for the Government to consider the introduction of a holistic, non-mandatory packed lunch standards framework as part of the ‘whole school approach’ to food in schools and to help address childhood obesity by consulting with children, parents, teachers, unions and the catering sector.
The APPG also recommends that providing parents and schools with new resources, or raising awareness of existing resources, on a healthy and affordable packed lunch – such as example menus and recipes – would be beneficial to the ‘whole school approach’ to food in schools and will go some way to help address family tensions and conflicts.
The APPG has identified that though hot and healthy school meals should be the way forward, there are still many children who go to school with a packed lunch. Analysis of data by the APPG shows that packed lunches are eaten by nearly 56.5% of pupils in Key Stage 2; however, as identified in the School Food Plan from 2013, only 1% of packed lunches meet nutritional standards.
The APPG believes that non-mandatory guidelines should be in place that ensure children are eating healthy food which allows parents and teachers to buy into this ethos to address this disparity. The APPG’s position paper also supports the House of Common’s Health Select Committee’s Childhood Obesity; Brave and Bold Action report which called for standards for packed lunches.
The introduction of a standards framework has been welcomed by head teachers, with 90% of head teachers surveyed in a study by Taylor Shaw in 2015 showing that head teachers welcomed support to encourage parents to send their children to school with a healthy packed lunch.
A case study from Leeds showed evidence of family tension due to unclear guidance on what kinds of food should and should not be included in a packed lunch with one child on free school meals quoted as saying: “It’s unfair they [children on packed lunches] can eat chocolate in their packed lunches [and] I have to have my free school meal.”
The support for packed lunch standards comes as part of the wider debate around the burgeoning crisis of childhood obesity and the Government’s pending Childhood Obesity Strategy which seeks to address the issue of 1 in 5 children in reception class being classed as overweight which then rises to 1 in 3 by the time they reach Year 6.
Following the publication of the position paper, Sharon said:
"Though we have made great strides forward in recent years to improve the quality of healthy food on offer in our schools, there is still a disparity between those children on healthy school meals and those who bring in a packed lunch.
"As a parent myself, I know all too well the on-going battle most mornings between a parent and a child to negotiate what food goes into a packed lunch and what constitutes healthy food. That is why the Government should help parents and teachers who want to support the ‘whole school approach’ on healthier eating by offering a clear standards framework for them to buy into so that children are eating healthy food, regardless of whether on school meals or packed lunches. This will not only benefit a child's education, but also their behaviour, wellbeing and health.
“There is no better moment than now, with the upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy’s publication in the coming weeks ahead, to ensure that packed lunches are considered by the Government as part of the wider, holistic package developed to help reverse the worrying trends of childhood obesity in this country.”
You can view the APPG's position paper here.