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The lunchbox (debate) has landed again – packed lunches


In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s back to school and back to the same old news stories. Packed lunches are back in the press.

I do a lot of home cooking with fresh ingredients, avoid salt and sugar where possible and provide plenty of fruit and veg when catering for my children. In fact, tonight they had a minestrone that included tomatoes, cabbage, celery, carrots, potatoes and cannellini beans. However, they are allowed treats, and we do have Fish Finger days when we’re really busy and there simply isn’t enough time before bed to incorporate everything. All to say, they have a very good diet probably 90% of the time.


Packed lunches and school dinners

We went on a picnic today with lots of other mums and children from the Epsom and Leatherhead Multiples Club. In my childrens’ lunch boxes there were pitas stuffed with salami and then pieces of cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, humus, carrot batons, blueberries and…dum, dum, dum cocktail sausages. Salami is fatty and salty and ditto for cocktail sausages. They love them however (as do I) but eat just as much of the good stuff as these more ‘dubious’ items. It’s about common sense and balance.  Would I have have been reprimanded about these items in a school lunch box? I doubt it. However it would have been a massive tut tut if I’d included a packet of crisps or some chocolate buttons. There is an air of double standards and nowhere more so than school dinners.

I find it rather ludicrous that there are so many guidelines about school packed lunches; the dos and don’ts.

School dinners

My eldest has a school lunch every day. We had a talk about the catering at her school before she started. They talked about all the hidden veg they included in their meals, and it was apparent they provided many healthy items.

However, alongside the virtuous stuff, there are puddings such as arctic roll, chocolate brownie and choc ice. There’s also a decent smattering of burgers, pizza and chips on the menu. I don’t demand that all sweet items or potato-based products are removed from the dinner menu as I know, on the whole, the school dinners are balanced, nutritious and varied. I also know that they are supplemented at home with very good meals most of the time. So why is it acceptable to be reprimanded about the odd packet of Pom-Bears? I’m pretty sure that very few children are being sent to school with nothing but a can of Coke and a few sweets in their lunch boxes. As the fussiest of eaters as a child and very thin, my mum was always delighted if I’d scoffed a Cadbury’s Flake alongside a triangle of sandwich.

Common sense and balance

My children have some choices regarding food and on quite a few occasions the opportunity to have something they consider a treat. I think this is an  important and part of childhood. Do they sit all day mainlining Haribo and Fruit Shoots? No. They LOVE fruit and will always go and help themselves to some from the fruit bowl if they’re feeling peckish (it’s their first port of call for a snack), but equally will pounce on a biscuit if it’s offered. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


About Author

I’m Fran: wife, mother-of-three and freelance publicist. My love for communicating and writing mirrors my passion for trying to be the best mum I can be. I love good food & wine, Italian culture and football and have a keen interest in personal finance. I also blog over on Epsom & Ewell Families and Habyts, and write sporadically for a number of other sites.


  1. Absolutly – recently fruits are also seen as a natural form of suger, an another disguise to pack a large amount of suger into what has been considered as a healthy option. Moderation is the key for anything. I am not too found of the faddish attitude towards food consumption in UK in the main stream society. What is considered good today, is no longer ok tomorrow and you would be looked at as neglecting your parental duty if we are seen to feed stigmatised food. At many occasions, what we parents feed to their children is a gesture to be seen acceptable by other parents of status quo. I say, unless they are poisonus (mind you, many food do contain elements that are not good for you in large quantity), balanced diet at moderation should be seen ideal. Don’t be too moderate in moderaion too! 😉

    • Some of the ‘healthy’ fruit snacks are the worst. As you say, moderation is key for anything and you’re completely spot on about the faddish attitudes in this country; something deemed good one day is going to slowly kill you the next! Good balance and common sense 🙂

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  3. Haven’t seen what they’re saying in the press. Definitely depends on the school. Hopefully, most like mine have lots of common sense. And yes, parents in some areas sadly do just send them in with just a bottle of coke and 5 chocolate bars.
    School dinners should be healthy, I know most offer pizza etc but even then the school kitchens (if cooked on site) have to adhere by really strict guidelines as to what they cook with etc. and ingredients. I don’t think many people know this. So even if it seems like an unhealthy burger choice it shouldn’t be if that makes sense. I know we offer the occasional pizza/fish finger day but all puddings should be healthy. We sent out a leaflet to parents with loads of suggestions for packed lunch ideas – I find it hard myself so goodness knows how parents have time/inclination. Suggest it to your school as an idea to help!xxx

    No one should be under pressure- that’s ridiculous and a school/leadership fault!
    Unfortunately in some areas parents don’t know what’s healthy which as you say is where it all stems from but like most things has got out of hand. Plus when the big O [Ofsted] come, if they see unhealthy packed lunches schools are told they’re rubbish and then fail!! It’s a minefield! Sorry- keep thinking of things to say!

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