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Should Packed Lunches Be Banned?

Ban packed lunches, says Katie Price’s ex Alex Reid

On 25th April 2012 Alex Reid, former husband of Katie Price, called for a ban on packed lunches in schools. In a speech before the All-Party Group on School Food he advocated compulsory free, healthy school meals for all children. His concerns are, that by eating chocolate and crisps children are:

“affecting their ability to concentrate in lessons”.

He has proposed that the school meals scheme be funded at a cost of £1 billion by raising money from companies through a scheme called Let’s Do Lunch. This would involve private firms being given the opportunity to invest in the scheme in return for promotional opportunities including direct marketing to parents. He said his proposal would remove the financial burden of providing school meals from the taxpayer and that:

“The important thing is the Let’s Do Lunch marketing would help companies investing in the scheme to generate more revenues. I want to make healthy school meals available to all kids. We will essentially make them compulsory and ban packed lunches.”

The idea was backed by Labour’s shadow education minister for children and families Sharon Hodgson who expressed her fears that under the Universal Credit system more children could lose their entitlement to free school meals. This is in light of the government scrapping a Labour devised scheme in 2010 that would have widened entitlement to free meals to 500,000 more low-income families. She said that:

“We now have to look at other ways of achieving those ambitions. The project that Alex is working on could go some way towards that.”

Should Packed Lunches Be Banned?

In a word No! This is not to say that Alex Reid’s aspiration of seeing every school child receive healthy school meals is not to be applauded. But our concern is the way in which he is attempting to see this fulfilled. The first problem that we perceive is the fact that Mr Reid’s main motivation appears to be the increase in revenues for the companies that invest in the scheme. The primary driving force behind any school meals scheme should be increasing the health and well-being of our children and it must be non-profit making.

Secondly, we would worry about the idea of participating companies being afforded promotional opportunities and direct marketing openings to parents. When we first opened Kip McGrath Education Centre Scunthorpe we contacted all the primary schools in the area to discuss what we did and how we could support their hard work with their pupils. We also asked if they could distribute our flyers in pupils’ book bags. Some schools were happy to allow this but a number stated that their policy meant they couldn’t be seen to recommend a particular business. We accepted each school’s choice on this matter. This suggests that schools are, on the whole, uncomfortable with private companies directly marketing through book bags and newsletters and so on. If they were unhappy at providing information about fellow education providers then we cannot imagine that they would wish to be used as a source of promotion for unrelated profit-making enterprises. If schools wish to recommend an organisation because it shares their values and/or they believe that its products or services would be of value to their families they should be at liberty to do so but this must be on a voluntary basis and not compulsory.

Finally, we feel that to arbitrarily ban packed lunches from schools regardless of how healthy they are is playing nanny state and will only cause resentment. Additionally, it serves no purpose in teaching children and families about healthy eating because you are simply spoon-feeding them healthy food without educating them about the variety of factors involved in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

What Are The Alternatives?

The scheme does have merits but needs some rethinking on how it would work.

  • There should be no direct marketing involved. No participating company should be allowed to profit directly from helping our children to become healthier and fitter. The firms concerned could simply have their name linked to the Let’s Do Lunch logo on school publications and displayed in limited but appropriate locations around the school. In addition, rather than using large multi-million pound corporations it might be possible to set up local Let’s Do Lunch schemes that would involve smaller businesses who wish to support their local schools. This would mean that a wide variety of local businesses would gain equal PR and that no business could profit or gain unfair advantage in their particular market place. It would also establish positive links between schools and the local business community.
  • Under no circumstances should this scheme be compulsory for parents. The merits of free, healthy school meals should be promoted to families and they can decide for themselves whether to participate or not. Encouragement for families to lead healthier lifestyles should come through education, not least the great healthy eating lessons that already take place up and down the country and the support of the School Food Trust. As a result parents can be taught and supported and this will increase the prospects of more children receiving healthy meals at home as well as in school.
  • Finally, the money saved from providing school meals should be ring-fenced for building new schools or expanding existing ones to help alleviate the growing crisis of shortages in primary school places.

Any schemes that attempt to encourage our children to live healthy lifestyles are to be praised but they should be carefully thought out with regard to both motivation and outcome and Let’s Do Lunch should be given careful consideration with regard to these criteria.

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