The choice between school meals or packed lunches can be on a lot of parents’ minds as the new school term rolls around.
With so much focus on what children eat at school in recent years, it can be difficult to know what to do for the best.
Do you trust your child to choose a nutritional meal? Or do you send them to school each day with a lunch from home?
For some of you the decision may be influenced by whether your child is entitled to free school meals. This is normally the case if you are in receipt of benefits such as Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit. The local council can tell you if your child is able to get free school meals.
In recent years, schools have put a lot of effort into revamping their dinners, especially after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver highlighted the issue in 2005. He started his Feed Me Better campaign because he was appalled by the junk food being served at many schools in England. It led to new guidelines for school dinners and the Government investing £280 million on improving menus for youngsters. Now all schools have healthy eating policies, which are reflected in the menus on offer for pupils. They also cater for different diets and allergies as well as for different religious faiths and beliefs.
At some institutions, improving the range of healthier options has led to increased take-up of school meals. It has also been argued that school meals provide an opportunity to encourage pupils to eat more fruit and vegetables, and to develop a taste for food that is low in salt, sugar and fat.
Some have cashless systems where children use a card or even their fingerprint to buy their food each day after parents have paid money into their account at the start of term. The benefits of this are that it means children do not have to carry cash on them each day. It also allows parents to monitor what their child is eating at school because they will know what has been purchased on their account.
Some schools have set prices for meals, while others will charge for items individually, allowing pupils to build their own meal. Many parents still choose to send their children to school with a packed lunch, especially if they prefer to eat a hot meal together as a family in the evening. Those who prefer their children to have a hot lunch and a cold meal at tea-time may prefer them to buy food while they are at school.
Some opt for packed lunches because it means they know exactly what their child is eating each day and they don’t have to leave it up to them to make healthy choices.
There are plenty of ideas online if you’re not sure what to give your child for lunch and suggestions to shake things up if they get tired of sandwiches each day.
Some schools also offer breakfast clubs to ensure pupils start the day well and have the energy they need for their lessons.