TEACHERS declared war on packed lunches yesterday with the launch of a scheme to encourage more children to eat school dinners.
The School Food Plan, announced by Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, was drawn up with the help of Newcastle University expert Ashley Adamson.
She is professor of public health nutrition and one of the advisers behind Mr Gove’s initiative.
The idea is to reduce the number of children taking packed lunches which often contain junk food such as crisps and chocolate bars.
Heads are also encouraged to stop children going out to local shops at lunch and could even use their powers to ban packed lunches.
Parents currently spend £1bn on packed lunches every year but tend to forget fruit and vegetables.
Prof Adamson welcomed the proposals which will provide £16.1m of new money to boost take-up of school meals and build on recent improvements known as Standards.
She said: “The School Food Plan offers an exciting opportunity to build on the huge improvement in school food since the introduction of Standards.
“We know that children who have a school lunch have better nutrition than those who have a packed lunch. We also know that there are unacceptable inequalities in nutrition – children from poorer families have poorer nutrition.
“Much has been achieved already, but making sure as many children as possible benefit from a healthy school lunch is not just about improving food. We need to make school lunch the preferred option.
“The School Food Plan adds new life to the whole school approach with a firm Government commitment to standards, but it also creates a vision where good food is part of the ethos of a good school where children can experience the pleasure and health benefits of growing, cooking, sharing and enjoying nutritious food.”
The plan started a year ago when Mr Gove asked Leon restaurant founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent to develop ideas with schools, councils, caterers, parents and government to get more children using improved school facilities.
Mr Gove said: “The whole virtue of the School Food Plan is that it’s there to help – it emphasises the vital importance of making sure food is high quality and tasty and creating a culture in school where everyone appreciates the importance of food.
“What I’d like to see is more children eating school lunches and fewer having packed lunches, and more children feeling healthier and more energetic throughout the day.”
Just 43% of children stay for school meals and although it is up from previous years it is still not enough, Mr Gove said.
Headteachers will be encouraged to lower the price of school meals and consider subsidising reception and year 7 classes for the first term.
They can also offer discounts for parents of multiple children or those whose children eat a school lunch every day.
Teachers should be encouraged to eat with the children and have a stay-on-site rule for break and lunch time.
A cashless payment system to shorten queuing times and prevent free school meal children from being stigmatised is suggested.
Parents and children will benefit from cooking lessons while an effort will be made to make school meals exciting while avoiding crisps and sweets.
Mr Gove said heads should also consider banning packed lunches completely.
Children who have a school lunch have better nutrition than those who have a packed lunch