Monthly Archives: July 2012

No such thing as a free lunch?

Check out this new blog from Sarah at the National Centre for Social Research. It’s all about a new report they’ve published this week, which looked at the impact of pilot schemes offering free school meals to more families.

In two areas where all primary school children were offered free meals, findings included:

  • better attainment at Key Stages 1 and 2, with pupils making between four and eight weeks’ more progress than similar pupils in comparison areas. This tended to be strongest amongst pupils from less affluent families and amongst those with lower prior attainment
  • most pupils took up the offer of free school meals
  • take-up of school meals increased for pupils who weren’t eligible (that is, entitled and registered) for free school meals before the pilot, but also among pupils who were already eligible for free school meals.
  • a shift in the types of food that pupils ate at lunchtime, away from foods typically associated with packed lunches towards those associated with hot meals.
  • children were less likely to report eating crisps at least once a day
  • less fussy eating! Two-thirds of parents agreed that their child was willing to try new food, compared with 57 per cent in comparison areas.

Here’s what Judy, our Chief Executive, had to say about the findings. We worked closely with all of the pilot schemes so we got to hear lots of the positive feedback from teachers and parents. We’d love to hear what you think too – post your comments below. Do you live in one of the pilot areas (Durham, Newham or Wolverhampton)? If so, did your child try the free school meals offer? What did you think?

Claire’s our Media and Communications Manager. Email Claire.

Pack in the packed lunches….for a while, at least!

So, it’s that time of year again – when parents everywhere breathe a sigh of relief. No more packed lunches to make for at least six whole weeks (unless you’ve got to supply them for holiday clubs, but that’s another story)!

No more breakfast-time realisations that your other half ate the last of the ham from the fridge, leaving you nothing to put in today’s sandwiches….no more screaming fits in the supermarket as you try to get the kids past the latest special offer on lunchbox-sized mini chocolate bars…no more fishing the squished banana out the bottom of their school bag – for a little while, at least!

And no wonder you’re fed up. Making daily packed lunches that can rival healthy school meal menus takes time and effort – we’ve estimated that it’s the equivalent of around eight whole days in a school year. And that’s before you count shopping time! What could you do with eight extra days? My list is endless, and it certainly doesn’t involve racking my brains for what to put in lunchboxes first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

So here’s a bit of food for thought for the holidays. Chances are your school’s sent home a menu for school meals in September. Take a look; see if they’re offering you a chance to go in and try a meal in the first few weeks of term, or if they’ve got any special offers on prices to start the new school year. If so, think about giving them a go – even just for a few days at first.

You might be giving your child a packed lunch because they’re fussy about what they eat. But lots of parents actually tell us that their children try foods in school that they flatly refuse to eat at home and midday supervisors will keep an eye on them – so it’s always worth a go.

If you think you’ll struggle with the costs, don’t forget to check whether you qualify for free school meals, or if your child’s school’s running any special deals that might help.

Packed lunches may seem to be cheaper than school meals, but healthy lunchboxes cost more than you think once you include the value of your time to shop, prepare and clear up.

Your time is priceless – so if you’re normally a slave to daily packed lunches, enjoy the break!

Natalie’s our Regional Manager for Let’s Get Cooking in the South West. Email Natalie

What the world needs now

The summer holidays might be just around the corner – but it’s not just the count-down to the season for a week in the sun that’s had me thinking about foreign climes this week.

It’s the many conversations I’ve had recently with people working on school food issues in other countries. Without exception, they want to learn from what we’ve all done, here in England, to improve the food that’s served in our schools.

From the USA to the Middle East and Scandinavia, many countries and local school districts are looking at how to oust the junk and make sure their school meals are giving children the nutrition they need to perform at their best at school. Because, let’s face it, the impact of poor diet for children’s focus and behaviour in class is universal – they eat better, they do better.

What our contacts in other countries are most interested in is how the national school food standards legislation has made a difference for food in our primary and secondary schools. They tell us they’ve seen what’s been achieved here (the near-elimination of all confectionary, crisps, sweets and sugary drinks; the average meal now far lower in fat, sugar and salt; children eating a better balance of foods for lunch and much more fruit and veg on the menu) and they want to replicate and build on it.

At the moment, we’re not aware of any other school food standards system anywhere else in the world which has made so much difference to the food that children eat at school, in such a short space of time.

As our national research has found, the standards aren’t being used perfectly everywhere in England. Particularly in secondary schools, we’re keen to look at how the standards can be further improved so that all pupils are getting even closer to the recommended levels of energy and nutrients they need. There’s still a lot of work to do in all schools before we can be satisfied that every child’s getting an excellent lunchtime, every lunchtime. But the point here is that having a statutory benchmark – for the basics that we expect of all school food – has made such progress compared to other interventions.

We’ve been talking to a number of international projects that are looking at introducing school food standards in different parts of the world. Watch this space for more detail. Here in the UK, as the national discussion about the role of school food standards continues, it’s worth remembering: our school food standards may be some of the toughest in the world, but they’re also the envy of many.

Judy Hargadon OBE is our Chief Executive. Email Judy.