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Packed Lunches or School Dinners?


Jan 06 2016
Packed Lunches or School Dinners

Your child might like the idea of a packed lunch, most do, but should you say yes?

Packed lunches might sound cheaper, but by the time you’ve taken into account the extras in your weekly shop, plus those top-up extras from the corner shop when you’ve run out of sandwich fillings, you may struggle to provide a nutritious meal for the same price as a school dinner.

The chances are stacked against your child’s packed lunch being as nutritious as the lunch the school provides. A survey in 2010 found that only 1% of children packed lunches come up to scratch. Most contained big no-no’s such as sweets, sugary drinks and high-fat, high-salt savoury snacks.

School dinners must by law provide a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit, with no confectionery or artificially-sweetened drinks. There are limits on the fat and salt content in each meal and the schools have to abide by this.

Even though they are growing, children need to eat the right amount for their age. Young children will need smaller portions with a choice of different foods and older children who are more active may need much larger amounts of high energy foods.

Eating the right foods also helps to improve children’s concentration, learning and behaviour whilst at school. It also promotes proper physical growth and development, and encourages resistance to infection.

It’s sometimes difficult to get any child to eat the right foods as all of the wrong foods are on hand where ever you turn. That’s why a child’s school lunch should be as nutritious as possible and both parents and the school should promote this and encourage it. 

To get your child interested in trying new, try cutting healthy foods into fun shapes and use a variety of small colourful containers. Involving your child in planning his/her school packed lunch will encourage them further to try new foods. You should also give praise, reward stickers etc, if they eat new foods.

School meals

School lunches have evolved considerably in recent years, especially since we saw the introduction of free school meals to all Key Stage 1 children in September 2014.  Since this change there has been an overhaul in the food that is being served now. It is a mix of much healthier and more balanced food now as opposed to the school lunches that you and I were once eating.

Children benefit from sitting down and eating together at lunch times and it encourages them to try new foods.

Now that the school meals are a more balanced and healthier option you will possibly see a rise in children choosing the packed school lunch from home but with school dinners your child will experience a wider range of foods as there is a change in variety one day to the next.

Due to the change in law, each day the school must offer at least one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables with every meal as well as a combination of high quality meat, poultry and fish.

The nice thing about school dinners is that for special days and celebrations such as Christmas, most schools often hold themed dinners for the children. It is possible for packed lunch children to opt in on these occasions if they want too.

There is no preparation time involved with school dinners as the school provides the menu choices and cook all the food. No input is required from parents which is great when time is limited at home.

Cost is often a concern for parents when deciding on school dinners. However all key stage 1 children (reception, year 1 & 2) now get free school meals. For older children, schools keep cost down as much as possible to ensure school dinners are affordable and value for money.

Packed lunches

The upside to providing your child with packed lunch each day is that as a parent you get to control what foods your child eats every day which is perfect if your child suffers with various food allergies.

Making the packed lunch at home means you’re able to take into consideration your child’s likes and dislikes to ensure your child is eating a full meal each day.

Packed lunches can be prepared in the morning or if you are pushed for time they can be made the night before and stored in the fridge. Throughout the day lunchboxes need to be kept cool. Ideally, you should use an insulated lunchbox with built in ice packs or a frozen carton of juice can be put inside to keep food items cool.

Remember, when making your child’s pack lunch you must take into consideration that a lot of schools have banned nuts, this is because some children have nut allergies and children are prone to sharing or swapping foods.

EatWell Plate

How to create a balanced packed lunch

A healthy packed lunch should contain a mix of foods from the EatWell Plate. The EatWell Plate shows how much should be eaten from each of the 5 food groups.

Over the course of a school week a good packed lunch should contain:

  • A starchy food to give long-lasting energy, such as bread, rolls, pitta bread, naan bread, potatoes, rice or noodles. These foods are good for children to fill up on.
  • A portion of food rich in protein, such as chicken, lean meat, fish, egg or a meat alternative such as Quorn either on its own or as a sandwich filler.
  • A good source of calcium such as milk, cheese, a low fat yoghurt or fromage frais.
  • One portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables to provide all the other vitamins and minerals. A piece of fruit could be a 100% juice or a piece of fresh fruit, dried fruit or tinned fruit in unsweetened fruit juice. A piece of vegetable could be a fresh vegetables such as carrot sticks, salad, vegetable soup or a vegetable dish.

Remember to always add a drink. Water, milk or pure, unsweetened fruit juice/fruit smoothies (maximum of 150ml per day) are good choices. Fruit juices and smoothies are best drunk at mealtimes to avoid tooth decay. It is important your child has plenty of water to drink throughout the day.

For cutting down fat you should reduce the amount of butter, margarine or mayonnaise you use and use lower fat alternatives. Use low fat sandwich fillings, such as chicken, lean meats, ham, beef, fish (e.g. tuna) or boiled egg.

So now that your child is well equipped with nutritious foods that will encourage them throughout their school days, it is important they have somewhere comfortable and well equipped to enjoy them. 


Here at Early Learning Furniture we supply a range of School Dining Tables that are ideally suited in nurseries, pre-schools and schools. Our range of school dining tables includes 8, 12 and 16 seat mobile folding school tables. Easy to use and can be folded and stored away, they can quickly transform your dining room ready for lunch then be packed away into storage when not in use, leaving your school hall available for other uses. 

Why choose our mobile dining furniture?

Space saving - folds up for easy storage

Fitted with easy lock wheels – making them easy to manoeuvre

Seats are attached – no need to worry about matching tables with the right chairs

Noise reduction – say goodbye to screeching chair legs across the hall floors

Makes cleaning easier – fewer table and chair legs to contend with

Colour – available in a variety of table top and seat colours

Shape – available as circular, rectangular or octagonal

Table Height – two heights reaching a wider age range

Seating options – available as either benches or singular seats seating 8, 12 and 16

Easy clean surfaces – making it quick to clean, fold and pack away 

For something a little different we offer a smart table top mobile dining table which has a colourful, educational table top theme – a fun way to engage children during lunchtime. Choose from endangered animals, world map or modern history.

All our space saving folding school tables are designed for easy use and are perfect for all school dining halls. If you need help choosing the right school dining furniture for your school, please contact us or call us on 01733 511121.