School dinners vs packed lunches

Last week, there were indignant voices from parents and others about proposals that schools should ban packed lunches  (ok, so I’m behind…)

I’m all for making life easy as a parent, and having good school lunches would definitely do that.  N’s nowhere near school yet, but choosing a nursery was dependent on there being meals provided to save having to work and provide 3 meals a day plus snacks for him as well as me for work.   School hours are obviously shorter, although if I’m cooking a meal after work, that means he wouldn’t get to eat until at least 6.00, more likely 6.30, and it would still be unlikely for it to be with his dad as well as me, as a lot of the year he doesn’t get in til late.  I’m already getting a bit concerned about the fact that he’s due to be in the local nursery which is school hours for 2 days a week from September and I’ve not considered the fact that I’ll have to do lunches for him for those 2 days, as well as ensuring he gets food for tea at his usual regular time of nearish 5pm!

But on the banning packed lunches, I don’t think as usual, these things have actually been thought through.

Now, I used to love my school dinners at primary school.  We went to a large school (around 300 pupils), there was a kitchen and large school hall which could cater for everyone.  At secondary school I used to have packed lunches, but the dinners looked ok.

However, at the local school that N is likely to go to (and the local nursery school), the number of pupils is less than 100, and even though the school is now in a purpose built property, there are no cooking facilities.  A bit nuts really, but a lot cheaper for a school than the extra people needed and the extra costs for keeping it running.  So it’s packed lunches…or lunches ordered in advance at a steep cost, from a farm catering/café service who deliver the meals.

Yes, the produce is all locally sourced, good quality meals, however at a fiver a meal (god knows how much it’ll be by the time N’s at school), that’s a lot of money each day.

There’s also the issue that the older children don’t necessarily get the larger portions they need as by the time the younger kids have theirs, there might not be enough left for extra portions.  What happens if on the day, the child is ill, or doesn’t want that meal.  They’re stuck with it, having paid for it already, whereas with a packed lunch, it could get kept for the next day (assuming it’s still being kept cool with an ice pack etc), and it definitely costs less than a fiver to make.

Obviously with a larger school they’ll have economies of scale and food costs will come down.  But there’s not many schools nowadays that have kitchens, and not every parent can afford to or wants to have food delivered in.  How are schools going to be able to cater for all the food allergies that children can have?  Not all children need 2 hot meals a day.

My son’s fine at the moment having 2 large hot meals a day, but by the time he’s older, he might not need those, and therefore it impacts on a family meal at the end of the day.

Overall, I do think school meals are a good idea, and at schools that can cater for the whole school and provide a good choice at a realistic price, then banning packed lunches might work (if you think about boarding schools, that’s effectively what they have).  But when you’ve got state schools with such a variety of children and demographics to cater for, as well as facilities issues, I just don’t see how it could work.

What do your kids have?  What’s your view?

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