Last week, All Saints’ Primary School in Clayton-le-Moors in Lancashire announced it was to ban packed lunches for infants (children aged four to seven) from September. The move coincides with the introduction of free school meals for all infants. But by slapping on a ban, the school might as well put up a sign to parents saying ‘SORRY, WE DON’T TRUST YOU’.
The plan follows an inspection of packed lunches at the school (something which should still be shocking in itself, but has become common), which found that fewer than one per cent of the meals brought in by children met government nutrition guidelines. Such a statistic says more about the obsessive nature of the guidelines than it does about the quality of packed lunches; former childhood staples like crisps and chocolate are now treated as deadly poisons. And the food being offered by the school, if a sample menu is anything to go by, looks pretty stodgy. Does a turkey sub roll followed by a sweet pudding really amount to a healthier choice?
The ban looks unnecessary, too, given that school meals are now free for these young children. Most parents would probably not bother with a packed lunch if the school will feed kids for free. But the lack of choice means that parents who have their own individual reasons for giving children a packed lunch will now be denied that choice. Parents with fussy children may prefer to give them something they will actually eat. Parents who obsess about everything being organic and ‘pesticide-free’ will be denied a choice, too. There are all sorts of reasons why parents might choose the expense and hassle of a packed lunch over free school meals. A ban simply takes that decision away from them.
The school-meals crusade has been built on wild claims about dramatically improving educational performance, classroom behaviour and obesity rates, none of which stands up to much scrutiny. The result is the nationalisation of children’s eating habits and a slap in the face for parents.
Rob Lyons is a columnist for spiked and author of Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)