Monday, January 18, 2010

1% of packed lunches as nutritionally balanced as school meals

So is anyone actually surprised by last weeks research on the quality of packed lunches undertaken by the BMJ for the Food Standards Agency? No, I thought not! For what it's worth here is my take on this:

1) School meals have improved - dramatically.In 2005 when we first set up Merton Parents for Better Food in School the meals were so dreadful they commonly didn't contain any fruit and vegetables. That has now changed. Even the worst school dinner has both fruit and veg, limits fried food and is nutritionally balanced.

2)Taking sandwiches, day in day out is very hard to make nutritionally balanced. Even the best efforts are often short of iron and high on sodium.

3)There is a correlation between the items children most often eat from their lunch box and the items most heavily advertised and marketed to children. Yep - sweetened drinks, crisps and confectionery.

Schools could help by maintaining a simple policy of no fizzy drinks, crisps and confectionery to be brought into school. Schools have no problem with being prescriptive in other areas of life - such as the colour of socks, length of hair etc. We could also stop allowing junk food to be marketed to children.

However there is a much simpler solution - one that works well in Finland. Make school meals free and demonstrate in practice how it is possible for kids to not just eat but even enjoy well cooked, tasty balanced meals.

If every child recieved a good school lunch it would be more effective than the best social marketing campaign and make it easier to argue with some parents about the importance of good nutrition

The cost? Yes we may have to spend some money but the savings to the health budget will be immense and we will probably even see a rise in educational standards to boot!