Healthy eating in schools

Why should schools have a packed lunch policy?

The School Food Trust advocates the introduction of Packed Lunch Policies to support healthier eating. Where implemented, after proper consultation with pupils, parents and staff, we believe they offer clear guidance and an opportunity to improve food consumed by all pupils.

The Trust is currently working with schools, caterers and Local Authorities to transform school meals. We believe an effective Packed Lunch Policy which applies similar standards to those for food supplied by the school should be an integral part of any school meal strategy; it ensures that packed lunches do not undermine the new, healthier school meals.

Do the standards apply to packed lunches?

Packed lunches provided by the school must meet the food-based standards for school lunches. The standards do not apply to packed lunches brought from home.

Any rules or policies regarding food that is brought into school from outside is a matter for schools and parents to consider. However, we would encourage schools and parents to support the drive to help children to make healthy choices. The main way of doing this is by introducing a packed lunch policy. We would support any school that chooses to introduce a packed lunch policy but recommend that the school consults with parents, pupils and staff beforehand.

Why are you telling parents what to do?

The information on our website about packed lunches is intended to be helpful and informative, not prescriptive. Recent research carried out by the School Food Trust suggests that whilst the nutritional quality of school dinners are benefiting from the introduction of new food-based standards for school food, this improvement is not being reflected in packed lunches.

The Trust advocates the introduction of Packed Lunch Policies to support healthier eating. Where implemented, after proper consultation with pupils, parents and staff, we believe they offer clear guidance and an opportunity to improve food consumed by all pupils.

Can schools charge parents who send their children to school with a packed lunch because children take longer to eat their meal and require closer supervision?

No. Section 512 of the Education Act 1996, as amended by section 201 of the Education Act 2002 requires a Local Authority (LA) or governing body to provide facilities for pupils not taking school meals, to eat meals that they bring to school free of charge. The LA / school is free to decide what facilities are appropriate.

However, we would recommend that these facilities should include accommodation, furniture and supervision so pupils can eat food they have brought from home in a safe and social environment. The school cannot charge pupils for using these facilities. This is set out in Chapter 15 of ‘A Guide to the Law for School Governors 2004’. This document is available to all governors and can be viewed at www.governornet.co.uk.

Are schools allowed to inspect / search pupils’ packed lunches and to confiscate items?

As far as searching packed lunches are concerned, looking in a lunch box could constitute searching a pupil’s possessions, but not searching the pupil. In which case, there is no statute which explicitly bans school staff from looking in a lunch box.

It is good practice to discuss items against the school rules with the pupil and parents rather than confiscate them immediately.

However, if the school intends on confiscating food items it would be advisable for the school to inform parents of this beforehand. It would also be good practice for the pupil to be present during the search and if staff were expecting to find and confiscate items that were against the school rules, for a second member of staff to be present.

If authorities and schools are concerned about their legal position, they should seek their own legal advice.

In schools where pupils eat their packed lunches at their desk, are they obliged to create the facilities and time so pupils can wash their hands and clean their desks before eating?

The employer or governing body must provide facilities for pupils not taking school meals to eat meals that they bring to school. The employer can decide what facilities are appropriate. These facilities include accommodation, furniture and supervision so pupils can eat food they have brought from home in suitable, i.e. safe and social, conditions. See Chapter 15 of the Guide to the Law for School Governors at www.governet.co.uk.

Under health and safety legislation the employer or governing body is responsible for ensuring, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of the staff and pupils. The employer / governing body is required to ensure that a risk assessment is conducted and measures are put in place to minimise any known risk.

As this is a local issue parents may wish to discuss their concerns with the headteacher and/or the LA if they are concerned about school facilities for pupils bringing packed lunches.

Is there any guidance about where packed lunches should be stored before lunch?

Currently there are no requirements for schools to provide refrigerated storage for pupils’ lunchboxes. However, there are regulations in place that impose a duty on employers / governing bodies to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all staff, pupils and visitors while they are on school premises or off site on a school visit. The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 require the employer to ensure that risk assessments are conducted and measures put in place to minimise any known risk. This should take all factors into account, including the storage of food on the premises.

It is very often difficult for schools to provide refrigeration for packed lunches so schools should advise parents that packed lunches should not require refrigeration. However, schools may wish to suggest some ways to keep packed lunch cold, such as:

  • commercial gel packs
  • water frozen in a rigid, leak proof plastic container
  • ice cubes in a leak proof container
  • a frozen juice carton (not a fizzy drink)– freeze the juice carton in the freezer and use the frozen carton (wrapped in kitchen roll to prevent dripping) in the lunch box to keep the other foods cool. The carton will have defrosted by lunchtime.

More information on food safety is available on the Food Standards Agency’s website: www.foodstandards.gov.uk.

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