cookingclassHead teachers in England are being urged to ban packed lunches to increase the take-up of school meals and promote healthy eating.

A government-commissioned school food review says take-up of school meals remains low at 43% despite "packed lunches being nearly always less nutritious than a cooked meal" according to the review.

Making packed lunches the least exciting option
School Food Plan authors Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent have suggested a thorough revision of current school meal quality standards, which they describe as "finnicky" and "overly complex".

Dimbleby said: "Many caterers told us they spent hours fiddling about with recipes trying to make the computer say 'yes', only to see children make a mockery of their efforts by assembling a plate full of food that looks nothing like their efforts."

"But the best schools, the schools with good food, find ways of making packed lunches the least exciting option. If packed lunches were banned, schools would be able to provide better meals at a cheaper price, and this would help boost children's performance."

Revised food-based standards are to be tested and introduced from 2014.

Lower prices to boost school meals takeup
The new standards will be applied to maintained schools and all new academies and free schools, the Department for Education said.

Head teachers are also being urged to lower the price of lunches to boost take-up. This might include providing subsidised meals for reception classes in primary schools and Year 7 classes in secondary schools, the report says.

Responding to the findings, Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "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."

However, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers Russell Hobby said he felt it probably was not feasible for schools to ban packed lunches.

One in 5 primary children obese
Other recommendations in the report included:
- After-school cooking lessons for parents and children, - More schools to have stay-on-site rules for break and lunch time
- Teachers to be encouraged to sit in the dining hall with children
- A £16m cash injection to boost the take-up of meals

The report comes as the obesity rate among children at the end of primary school has risen to almost one in five.