What can my child eat at school?

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A school in Bradford has banned “unhealthy” foods such as sausage rolls in pupils’ lunchboxes – a move which has divided opinion among parents.

So just what can your child eat at school, whether in a packed lunch or for a school dinner?

Packed lunches

It’s pretty straightforward – there are no official rules as it’s down to individual schools in England, the Department for Education says, to decide what their policy is on food brought in from home.

So while some schools might take a strict line on inspecting lunchboxes and banning certain foods, others may take a more hands-off approach.

But when it comes to school meals, the rules are a lot stricter.

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Carrot sticks not crisps

For parents making up packed lunches, the Children’s Food Trust recommends they include a piece of food from each of the following categories:

  • starchy foods like bread, pasta or potatoes
  • fruit and veg, so sticks of cucumber, celery or carrot, alongside a piece of fruit
  • meat, fish, eggs and beans – strips of chicken or bean dips, it suggests
  • dairy food such as cheese in a sandwich or a yoghurt or fromage frais
  • a drink – milk or water are the best choices for children’s teeth, the trust says, and if you want to pack fruit juice, stick to a 150ml portion

But foods and drinks high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt, like crisps and chocolate biscuits, should be avoided, the trust says.

Where have all the chips gone?

But while there are guidelines for packed lunches, there are rules for school dinners.

New regulations say that school dinners in England have to be healthy too, so that children have nutritious, balanced diets.

School caterers must serve up:

  • high-quality meat, poultry or oily fish
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • bread, other cereals and potatoes

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They aren’t allowed to serve up more than two portions of deep-fried (yes, that’s aimed at chips!), battered or breaded food a week.

Did you know?

Schools in England must provide drinking water – free of charge – at all times on school premises.

And they can’t sell drinks with added sugar, crisps, chocolate or sweets in vending machines.

Schools are obliged to give packed lunch pupils, free of charge, somewhere to eat their food and “these facilities should include accommodation, furniture and supervision”, the DfE says.

However, everyone is off the leash when…

The usual regulations can be tossed aside:

  • for parties or celebrations for special occasions,
  • at fund-raising events
  • and as rewards for achievement, good behaviour or effort

So that’s why no-one minds when your child’s “star of the week” and the teacher gives him or her a chocolate bar – just in case you were wondering.

What did you put in your children’s packed lunch today? Share what’s in their lunch boxes by emailing .

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