Schools are teaching parents what to put in their children’s lunchboxes to cut obesity as research shows fewer than one in 60 packed meals meet nutritional standards

  • Study in England found pupils regularly took in sausage rolls, crisps and biscuits 
  • Now a charity is working with more than 100 schools to improve nutrition 
  • Two-thirds of lunches contained too much sugar and only half had piece of fruit

Schools are teaching parents what to put in their children’s lunchboxes after research showed that fewer than one in 60 packed meals were healthy.

A study in England found pupils regularly took in sausage rolls, crisps and biscuits, but rarely fruit and vegetables.

Now a charity is working with more than 100 schools to improve nutrition, and is running classes for mothers and fathers on what constitutes a suitable lunch. 

Two-thirds of lunches contained too much sugar, only half had a piece of fruit and only a fifth included a vegetable, research by Leeds University found. 

Schools are teaching parents what to put in their children’s lunchboxes after research showed that fewer than one in 60 packed meals were healthy (stock image)

Most sandwiches were made with white bread. Ham was the most popular filling, but jam and Nutella were common.

Stephanie Slater, of School Food Matters, said: ‘We’re supporting schools to put together a packed lunch policy and workshops for parents so they know what to include in their child’s lunchbox.’

More than 100 schools are being enrolled in the programme over five years, and they are being offered a ‘menu of support’, including workshops for parents at schools in London on ‘affordable nutritious’ recipes. 

Miss Slater added: ‘With a clear policy in place, school staff don’t have to become “packed lunch police” which creates tensions between schools and families. But the very best way to ensure children get the variety and the nutrition they need to thrive is to encourage them to eat a hot school meal.’

The study, which tracked habits from 2006 was published in the BMJ Open journal. The data from 2006 involved 1,148 pupils at 76 schools in England. Eighteen schools took part in a follow-up in 2016.

Overall, just 1.6 per cent of lunch boxes were found to meet nutritional standards, up from 1.1 per cent in 2006. 

A study in England found pupils regularly took in sausage rolls, crisps and biscuits, but rarely fruit and vegetables (stock image)

Rules on nutritional quality for school dinners were introduced in 2006 in England but no law covers packed lunches.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘The answer to this problem surely lies with Boris Johnson who, when Mayor of London, backed calls for a ban on packed school lunches…

‘He recognised that children learn best having eaten hot nutritious food rather than boxes of junk that also feeds weight gain.’

Some 14.4 per cent of children were obese by the time they started primary school in 2020-21.

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