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In July 2018 we did an experiment to see whether you can:

MAKE UP FIVE DAYS WORTH OF VARIED, WELL BALANCED AND NUTRITIOUS PACKED LUNCHES USING GUIDANCE PROVIDED ON THE SCHOOL FOOD PLAN FOR THE AVERAGE COST OF A SCHOOL MEAL – £2 PER DAY

(See HERE). It received a lot of attention at the time and is still shared today.


This time around… 

WELL, it’s 2020, the world has come close to imploding, many parents are more cash-strapped than ever and in more schools than I can bear to think about, school meals aren’t even an option as packed lunches are deemed a ‘more covid safe option’ (but this is a discussion for another day).  

So, with supermarkets being very mindful of all of this, Boris telling us he cares about obesity again, and the 2016 sugar levy still in the back of our minds – can it be done this time around?

A few things to note since 2018 – worth clarifying before we begin.

  1. THE PREVIOUS CONCLUSION: 
    The original study from 2018 (HERE) concluded that the cheapest you can create a ‘healthy’ lunchbox for was approx. £14.50 (£4.50 a week more than school lunches at the time)
  2. COST: The average cost of a school meal in 2020 is approx. £2.20 (which is subject to much debate) whereas the average SPEND of a packed lunch is around £1.86 (but still only 1.6% of packed lunches are deemed ‘nutritious’).
  3. FOOD STANDARDS: The School Food Plan still exist, and are still used – but are (apparently) going through consultation at some point… we’ve been promised this consultation since 2017 so who knows when that will happen… alas, it’s all we currently have – so it will be what we use to write these menus.

HOW THIS IS GOING TO WORK?

For fairness, I’ll keep methods and rules of the study pretty much the same with a few changes:

  1. I’ll write a ONE-week menu based on the School Food Plan recommendations and based on MAX portions sizes recommended for a pupil halfway through primary school
  2. Prices will be worked out per day, based on the quantity of the food item used for lunches – buying each food from each supermarket as if I were buying enough for three weeks’ worth, to prevent a ‘weight and quantity’ bias
  3. This time, although I’ll still be going to the UK’S leading supermarkets outlined HERE I’m going to choose FOUR instead of three. They are: 
    Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, and Aldi. 
  4. I will divide the costs for the amount used (i.e. I can’t buy one slice of bread, so I’ll divide the loaf into the amount used)
  5. I will purchase mid-range brands instead of opting for high end items, or the cheapest items.
  6. The menu this time as been created to attempt to be the cheapest it can (whilst not going super low budget (i.e. I got a lot of flak for having beef on the menu last time. This time around I won’t have expensive foods on there for fairness)

[All prices correct as of October 2020.]

THE MENU

Again, based on the school food plan, I’ve written a ONE WEEK menu (disregarding the three week cycle that caterers refer too for the sake of simplicity) making references to all required food groups and portions per day, whilst considering the NEW ADDITION of sugar being kept as low as possible (no more than 5.7g per day as recommended HERE).SIMPLE. Five days, hitting food group requirements as best as I can, without being too complex, whilst offering variety and keeping costs low.

As you can see, I’ve made it as varied as I possibly can, considering non-meat eaters and even opting for a dairy free day on Tuesday (i.e. – it’s optional to have these items as part of lunch). 

Obviously, this could be more creative, and it should really include a portion of oily fish, but that would rocket costs even further and I wanted to be fair.


THE RESULTS

As a recap, last time around (October 2018):

Aldi was the cheapest at: £14.50

Sainsbury’s was the most expensive at: £16.50

(This time as the average cost of school meals is slightly higher – we’ll be working out menus at £2.20 per day vs £2).

So, can it be done, this time around?

NOPE.

Once again, school meals are clearly cheaper. 

Aldi, despite being the cheapest again were still nearly £4 more expensive than 2018, whilst, Sainsburys came out at £22 per WEEK to provide a well-balanced menu, which aligns with the standards that schools have to adhere to.

That’s roughly £4.40 a day – TWICE the cost of a nutritious school meal that is currently free for millions of children across the country. 


Summary

This once again took far too much time to do, and as I was writing and then shopping for the ‘healthiest version of a packed lunch’ based on the standards I thought:

‘Why would ANY PARENT do this when you can have school meals for less (often for free) at school?’

SO PLEASE trust me when you read this:

I have seen hundreds of thousands of school meals being served in primary schools across the UK, I’ve also seen hundreds of thousands of packed lunches in these same schools and 90% of the time, the quality of food served to our children in this country for £2.20 per day (if not free) is outstanding. Not just good – It’s outstanding.

Yet, on average only 60% of children across the country who are eligible for free school meals takes them up.

If that is you.

PLEASE re-consider.

I PROMISE YOU, at School Health UK we are doing our bit.

NOBODY cares more about school lunchtimes than us and we will NEVER let the standards of school meals slip in any school we ever step into.

Paul 

Please contact hello@schoolhealthuk.co.uk for more. 

FURTHER READING/ ARTICLES USED:

https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/category-reports/the-covid-school-lunch-kids-lunches-category-report-2020/646022.article