A ban on packed lunches was never going to be popular with parents. Generally, I don’t think we liked to be told that what we are doing is wrong, that we are somehow stupid and don’t know how to look after our own children.
But now Nick Clegg has announced a free school meals policy which will begin next September for all Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 (infant) school pupils, and will be worth around £437 per child to family. It is argued that in pilot studies the children each reached the key stage one levels as a consequence – in average putting children two months ahead of where they would have been otherwise.
I think for many they will see this as a welcome move, especially after the tragic loss of four year old Daniel Pelka who was starved to death by his parents. This may be the only nutritious meal a child will receive all day. 4/10ths of children living in poverty do not get free school meals because they are either not entitled to them (earning over £16,000 a year but not considering their outgoings) or their families do not claim them. The policy will also be a welcome relief for working parents after the withdrawal of child benefit, to not be penalised for earning a living.
Jamie Oliver was shot down for suggesting that we make poor choices when it comes to what to feed our children, but as this is being offered to all surely then this is still the same message – we need our children to have free school meals provided for them because we don’t know how to pack a healthy school lunch?
So does this mean children WILL be given school lunches? Will parents not have to claim them? This will at least end the argument of no money then no food. Are packed lunches going to be banned whether we like it or not and this is to soften the blow? Will this help end any stigma around receiving free school meals, and make it less embarrassing for families who claim them? I, myself, was asked if I had split from my husband when we had to claim them! And if the children are doing all this catching up – will they ever be allowed a holiday in term time again?
Will parents assume their child has eaten well enough at lunch time and therefore not cook them an evening meal? Will this make any difference if they do not? Will this be better for working parents/those busy with after school activities? What about picky eaters – will they then be forced into making sure that they eat what they are given at lunch time? Is this enough? What about children over the age of 7?
What about families with a mix of children in infant and junior? Will parents be more inclined to “cook” something quick if one of their children has had a cooked lunch? Or will this see a demise in families sitting together for an evening meal together? Will children be less likely to learn to cook from modelling their parents?
Is payment the only concern that parents who chose not to go school lunches have? What about those with allergies? What about children who are home educated? Does their diet not count?
I would love to know what others think of this proposal