/ Food & Drink, Parenting

Why I’m happy to swallow the cost of school meals

'Back to school' spelt out in spaghetti

Lumpy custard and gravy with everything… school meals have moved on a lot since my day, which is why I like my children to have them. But, with some prices going up, are they becoming a luxury that many can’t afford?

I love school dinners, I really do! They make my life easier.

Less stress for me in the morning because I haven’t got to knock up yet another meal which is nutritious and fits in with the latest school rules about what is and isn’t allowed in the lunch box. And, most importantly, it’s actually likely to be eaten.

Both of my kids have school dinners which cost £1.60 each. Yes, I could do without writing a cheque for nearly a hundred pounds every half term but I’m still a big fan.

The school dinner divide

I think we should all do our bit to make sure the next generation not only eats healthily but also experiences dining with peers. Did anyone else see the Jamie Oliver series in the US where some of the kids couldn’t use a knife and fork?

Still, I recognise that this is one of the most contentious subjects for anyone who cares for a school child. Want to start a ‘heated debate’ among parents? Then kick off with the subject of school dinners. Some parents believe their children won’t eat anything if they’re ‘forced’ to have school dinners; others argue that pupils should only have school dinners.

At the moment, I happen to believe that school meals are good for my children. I want them to have the option of a nutritionally-balanced hot meal in a supervised environment. I want them to be shown what’s expected when they sit down to eat and to enjoy eating with their friends.

But I know that I have a rose-tinted view; my children are the first to say that the mysterious sauce covering the chicken was ‘disgusting’ or ‘it wasn’t fair as all of the chocolate pudding had gone!’. But I stick with them – and I’m proud that Which? had a role in setting the standards for food in schools.

Are school meals a luxury?

Unfortunately, though, we are at risk of school dinners becoming a luxury that some can’t afford, especially with this week’s news that some school meals will be going up to £2.60, which is sad.

In these times it is an expense that some people have had to ‘cut’. Like everyone, I’m trying to save wherever I can. But – at the moment – I’m not doing this with school dinners. When one piece of fruit can cost 40p, school dinners can work out to be inexpensive – and I might even be saving money. But for how much longer?

Do I believe that everyone should have the choice of giving their children school dinners? Absolutely. I think that they should have the right to have healthy meals which are reasonably priced in an environment where children can enjoy food together.

But should parents have the choice to be able to give their child a packed lunch? Of course they should. However, I do know of one child who has a jam sandwich on white bread in his packed lunch every single day – and that’s not really much of a choice, is it?

School Food Trust says:
7 April 2011

Lots of interesting thoughts, thanks for flagging! Clearly, the reality is that school meals services continue to face many (and varied) financial pressures, but in our everyday work with schools and councils we’re really encouraged to see so many keeping the price of a healthy school lunch low and securing continued investment. Keeping good school food affordable for parents and tasty, hot meals on the menu pays back a big return on all sides; when children eat better, they do better.

We’re here to help any school worried about being able to keep meal prices affordable; there are lots and lots of options that you can explore. Any school wanting help can get in touch.


Thanks for replying and sending the links, Jenny


School meals will always be a luxury.

For those struggling with cash, surely packed lunches are the best thing.


It is merely a choice if you can afford it or not. If you can’t afford it, you don’t do it.

I guess it all depends on whether you can (be bothered to) cook in the evening.

As a child, my mum stayed at home, I had packed lunches and she cooked the simplest meals possible in the evening with produce grown in my dad’s allotment.


and btw, why do you want to give kids choice?

“You’ll get what you’re bloody given” was always the reply when I asked for a choice 🙂


Some interesting stats in the paper today about pupils who have had Jamie’s school dinners. They say that the number of pupils reaching a high level in English tests rose by 6% at the London schools where Oliver launched his menu in 2004 and sickness rates fell by 14% in the five years to 2008.

Do you think these results are linked to healthy school dinners? I’m a big believer that healthy eating helps you function more effectively, so I’m happy to believe the figures.

School Food Trust says:
11 April 2011

Our research in schools shows clear links between the food that children eat at lunchtime, the environment in which they eat and their concentration and behaviour in lessons after lunch. 

In our studies in both primary and secondary schools, pupils were more focused and alert with their teachers after a healthier meal in a better dining space, showing just how important a good lunchtime is for children’s learning. 

Research also shows the impact of national standards for school meals on the food that children are now choosing and eating at lunchtime – with almost three quarters of primary pupils who have school meals now taking vegetables or salad with their lunch, more children having water to drink and the average school meal now lower in fat, sugar and salt.

Full reports on:

School lunch and learning behaviour in primary schools: an intervention study

School lunch and learning behaviour in secondary schools: an intervention study

School Food Trust Primary Survey of School Lunches, 2009

Emily says:
3 July 2011

I enjoy my school meals, but I get £2 a day, and they cost £2.10, so I can only have it every other day; on the other days I have to have sandwiches at school, unless they have jacket potatos. And often they run out of them. 🙁 But even when I have school meals (which are really nice!) even if you only have mashed potato and beans (my firned did this once) it’s £2.10. But a full meal plus dessert with gravy for meal, custard for dessert and a slice of bread is also £2.10. Wacky pricing.

And i totally disagree that school meals should be luxury items and only if you can afford them; it’s like saying you only deserve hot food if you can afford a cooker, pans and food to cook. It should be a right, not a privelage.


Forgive me for asking, but aren’t school meals for the kids? 🙂 Unless…