Packed lunch vs hot school meal

I remember those good old days when I was in primary school eating a hot school meal. I kept my money in one of those round plastic pots with the lid, and we all queued up for this midday meal. Sometimes it would take a long time to get your food so I would say that it will develop patience in the under developed mind.

Next, you grab your tray. Which is how you will carry your main meal, dessert and drink every lunch time. Many people believe that children need hot food and I would have to agree. In comparison to a cold packed lunch, the hot meal provides much more satisfaction, tastes better and will also support the school that your child attends.

What are hot school meals like?

Whilst every school will of course vary. From memory, most of the food is quite salty, which is of course not very good for your health. This is in regards to mashed potato, gravy, cheese dishes, etc. They always provide a dessert which could be cake, custard or even ice cream. I feel that this is unnecessary, and that children should not be eating dessert every lunch time.

On a positive note, they do provide at least two types of vegetables with every dish, sometimes offering fruit as their dessert and over time schools have become more vegetarian/vegan friendly to accommodate to others and to help make the meals less fatty which in turn helps contribute to the reduction of obesity. I can’t speak for every school, but my daughters primary school has kitchen staff who cook everything from fresh each day.

They even use organic ingredients when possible. In terms of price, I would say that hot school meals are reasonable and in comparison to packed lunch would cost around the same, depending of course on how many extras you give your child.

My sons nursery have a strict vegetarian meal everyday and do not accept packed lunch as an option. This is because the staff were getting fed up seeing children come into school with cold leftover takeaway pizza for lunch. I am really happy that they did this because it means they care about my sons nutrition and the well being of the other kids who attend.

What should I put in my child’s packed lunch?

The most common food items to in a packed lunch is a sandwich, cold tomato pasta, quiche, wraps or salads. These types of things are often accompanied by crisps, however there is an ongoing debate as to whether someone should be eating crisps daily or not.

should you eat crisps daily

As a child, I don’t remember eating crisps all that often. However, in my high school years, I would regularly consume 3 packets per day that were small and sharing packs (that I never did share.) This is a lot of crisps that I was eating in one day. Making up enough servings for 8. I couldn’t imagine what damage this would have done to my body, but I wasn’t the only one doing it. Most of my friends would also eat a ton of crisps. The truth is, that crisps are so tasty, and are loved by most children.

They come in all shapes, colours and flavours. It is important to know that not all crisps are created equally. For example, potato chips and tortilla corn crisps are usually highest in fat which makes for a very unhealthy snack. Not to mention some possible preservatives, and artificial flavourings that they may or may not have used.

The good news is that there are some healthier crisps now compared to what used to be available on the market. With alternatives such as lentil crisps, oven-baked, air-popped variations. These make for a fine snack for a little one that contains fewer fats, saturated fats, salt, sugar, preservatives and calories. You could give your child crisps with their lunch but I don’t think that you should give them to them with their packed lunch every day.

Finally, you should add a piece of fresh fruit and some dried fruits. Our favourite dried fruits are figs, apricots, dates, and raisins. Unfortunately, you cannot include nuts despite their high nutrients. This is due to possible allergies. Nowadays most schools have gone completely nut & egg free. Therefore, you should make sure your child is having them at a home, favourites in our house are pecans, walnuts, and almonds.

When I moved to high school, hot school meals were very different. For the first few weeks I continued to have them, but the options available were not healthy at all. Instead of an actual meal, the options were:

  • A slice of pizza
  • Hamburger, cheese burger, fish burger or veggie burger
  • Flapjack or some other type of cake.

Not only are all of these full of saturated fat, salt and sugar but these were available every day along with a carton of artificial juice containing colourings, sugar, sweeteners and preservatives. My nan then decided that a switch to packed lunch was the best option for me. I would recommend doing your research on the school that you are thinking about sending your child too.

Whilst eating those unhealthy foods occasionally would be alright, if your child is eating them too often they could develop a health condition. If you think about it, it’s no wonder that obesity is on the rise. At the end of the day we all want what is best for our children and for that reason you should check the menu and alternate between both of the options. 

Typically during the summer packed lunches are fine but during the winter, a cold sandwich is not as beneficial as a hot meal. I recommend, In terms of popularity, a packed lunch is winning but there are too many variables to decide whether a packed lunch or hot school meal is healthier, ultimately it's your choice that matters.

Up next: Should kids have to wear school uniform?


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