Stephen Jardine: School lunch police are only trying to help

The offending article: a sausage roll was deemed unsuitable for a school pupil's lunchbox. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The offending article: a sausage roll was deemed unsuitable for a school pupil's lunchbox. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Parents should not lambast efforts to encourage healthy eating choices says Stephen Jardine

“Parents outraged as school bans sausage rolls, pork pies, fruit squash and even biscuits from children’s lunch boxes” screamed the tabloid headline.

What a scandal. We didn’t fight two world wars to be told what our kids can eat for lunch. Shirley Manor Primary School in Yorkshire is obviously a hot bed of big brother nanny state political correctness. Just take a look at their website: “The health and well-being of our children is very important to us at Shirley Manor Primary. This week will be launching our Health and Hygiene Week by having a whole school assembly. We will talk about personal hygiene, healthy diets, the importance of taking exercise and keeping fit.” Sorry, what?

It turns out the only thing staff at Shirley Manor Primary School are guilty of is caring about the welfare of the children in their care. As part of that, at the start of term this month, they introduced a ‘Whole School Food and Drink Policy’ with the aim of working with parents to ensure their children eat well.

The policy, driven by Government guidelines, involves children showing their packed lunch to staff and discussing the contents. “Pork pies, sausage rolls and pepperoni sticks are high in salt and saturated fat and should not be included in a pupil’s lunchbox,” say the guidelines. When it comes to desserts, cakes, biscuits and crisps, if a pupil has more than one of these items it will be removed and returned to the child to take home at the end of the day.

For one parent, that was too much. After his son had a sausage roll confiscated the man called the policy ‘ridiculous’, explaining his son was a ‘fussy eater’. The saga has echoes of another Yorkshire initiative when Jamie Oliver tried to improve school meals. That famously led to some parents passing chips and burgers through the school railings in defiance of the healthy changes taking place. Yorkshire’s reputation for obstinance seems to be well founded.

But would we be any better here? When North Lanarkshire attempted to stop burger vans from operating near schools the owners went to court and overturned the ban claiming it infringed the human rights of themselves and their customers. So any attempt to introduce change is fraught with difficulty but something has to give Twenty eight per cent of Scotland’s children are now overweight or obese and last year one Scottish health board alone referred 30 children under the age of four for obesity management treatment. Giving a pre-school child a leaflet on health eating is not going to work. In this case and others, intervention is required and schools have a key role to play in this.

Of course there are bigger issues around sugar, fizzy drinks and the way foods are marketed to children, but if education is they key to preventing us getting bigger as a nation, it has to start in schools. For time-pressed parents, there are plenty of healthy lunch snack choices in the shops or they can make something themselves. What they can’t do is blame schools for wanting the best for their children.

Back at Shirley Manor Primary School, teachers are to meet parents to explain the new healthy eating policy. “We want to work with our parents to ensure pupils are happy and and healthy in school and that these changes work for every child” said the head teacher.

So often these initiatives are portrayed as a battle between interfering, over zealous teachers and lazy, ignorant parents. The reality is all parents want the best for their children but sometimes need a little help along the way. That’s exactly what the school in Yorkshire is trying to offer and they deserve respect not outrage for making the effort.