Packed Lunch Guidance and Policy
To grow and stay healthy children need to eat a nutritionally well balanced diet.
Schools are an influential setting and can contribute significantly to improving the health and well-being of pupils. Good nutrition in childhood can help prevent a variety of health problems, both in the short term and later in life. There is increasing concern that many children are consuming too much fat, sugar and salt and too little fibre, fruit and vegetables.
Packed lunches can contribute to almost a third of a child’s weekly food intake and therefore need to be balanced and nutritious.
To ensure that packed lunches (brought in from home) reflect the standards for school meals.
The content of lunchboxes needs to reflect the requirement of schools to meet minimum food and nutrition standards for school meals. The contents of lunchboxes in some schools can be extremely unhealthy, recent audits of lunchboxes have shown that in the main they contain foods with high levels of fat, sugar and salt, and very few fruit and vegetables.
The short term effects of unhealthy packed lunches and food intake can include poor growth, tooth decay, obesity, anaemia, constipation, poor concentration and behavioural problems which may have an impact on a child’s learning. The longer term effects of a poor diet in childhood can be an increased risk of stroke, cancer, heart disease and diabetes and can add to poor mental health in adulthood.
Children’s packed lunches should include items from the 5 main food groups;
Bread, Rice, Potatoes, Pasta. These starchy foods are a healthy source of energy. Packed lunches should include 2 or more portions eg pasta salad, sandwich.
Starchy foods are a good source of energy and essential fibre, calcium, iron and vitamins. Gram for gram, starchy foods contain less than half the calories of fat. Try not to add extra fat to starchy food by adding butter, oil, spreads, cheese or jam – that’s just adding more calories.
Good to know
It’s a good idea to base each meal around starchy foods. Try:
These foods provide vitamins, minerals and fibre. Lunches should include at least 1 portion of fruit and 1 portion of vegetables / salad, or more e.g. carrot/cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, a piece of fruit.
You should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. They contain important vitamins and minerals that help prevent disease as well as fibre which can lower cholesterol, keep the bowel healthy and help digestion.
Fruit and vegetables are low in fat, so they’re great for bulking out meals and making you feel full without adding too many calories.
It’s easy to get your five a day if you spread your portions through the day. Try:
These foods and drinks also count as one portion, but you can only count them once each day:
Fruit juice and smoothies contain a lot of sugar, so limit them to just 150ml a day – that’s around the same as a small glass. Dried fruit is also high in sugar so it’s best not to eat it in-between meals to help prevent tooth decay.
3) Milk and Dairy foods. These foods provide calcium for healthy bones and teeth. Include 1 portion at lunch e.g. yoghurt, fromage frais, milk.
Dairy and dairy alternatives are good sources of protein and vitamins. They also contain calcium, which helps keep our bones healthy and strong. Semi-skimmed, skimmed, and 1% fat milk all contain less fat than full-fat milk, but still give you protein, vitamins and calcium.
Dairy-free milk alternatives include soya milk and nut milks – if you chose dairy-free milk then go for unsweetened varieties which have been fortified with calcium.
Some dairy products like cheese and yoghurts can be high in salt, sugar or fat (especially saturated fat), so always check the label.
Good to know
Try using a strong flavoured cheese, like mature cheddar – the strong flavour means you can use less without sacrificing taste, and so reduce fat. Try grating cheese too – a little goes a long way so you’ll use less.
Meat, Fish, Eggs, Beans. These foods provide protein for growth. Packed lunches should include 1 portion of these foods e.g. boiled egg as filling in sandwich, mixed bean salad.
Pulses are things like beans, peas and lentils. They’re a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals and are naturally very low in fat. They count towards your five a day but only as one portion, no matter how much you eat.
Pulses are great for bulking out things like soups, casseroles and meat sauces. They add extra flavour and texture and mean you can use less meat. This reduces the amount of fat you’re eating and also means your money will go further too, as pulses are usually cheaper than meat.
Other vegetable-based sources of protein include tofu, bean curd and mycoprotein and Quorn. They are full of protein, low in fat and can be used in place of meat in most recipes.
Fish is a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat at least two portions of fish every week, one of which should be oil-rich (one portion is around 140g). Choose from fresh, frozen or tinned fish.
Oil-rich fish like salmon and mackerel contain omega 3 fatty acids which keep our hearts healthy and are a good source of vitamins A and D.
Oil-rich fish can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body, so most of us shouldn’t eat more than four portions a week. There is extra advice to follow if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.
White fish includes fish like haddock, plaice, coley, cod, skate and hake. It’s low in fat, contains important vitamins and minerals and a great alternative to meat. Choose fresh, frozen or tinned white fish, but remember smoked fish or fish tinned in brine can be high in salt so always check the label before you buy.
Adults shouldn’t eat more than one portion of swordfish, shark or marlin per week. Children, pregnant women and women who are trying to get pregnant shouldn’t eat swordfish as it contains more mercury than other fish.
Eggs are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. They’re a good choice as part of a healthy balanced diet and there’s no recommended limit on the number of eggs you can eat in a week. Eggs are great for making healthy, quick dishes. Try to avoid adding too much fat to eggs when cooking – poaching, scrambling or boiling is best. If you do fry eggs, don’t add too much oil to the pan and choose healthier unsaturated oils like vegetable, rapeseed or olive oil. Our food safety pages have more information about cooking eggs.
Quiches and flans contain eggs but can be high in fat and salt so eat them less often.
Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s one of the main sources of vitamin B12, an important vitamin which is only found in food from animals like meat and milk. It’s important to know how to cook and handle meat safely.
Red meat includes beef, lamb, venison and pork, all of which can form part of a healthy diet. Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Processed meat includes things like sausages, bacon, burgers, ham, salami, other cured meats and pâté.
Eating too much red and processed meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Aim to eat no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day – that’s around two slices of roast meat or two sausages. Try to cut back if you eat more than 90g (around 3 slices of roast meat) of red and processed meat a day.
Some types of meat are higher in fat, especially saturated fat. Eating lots of saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels which increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Always try to choose lean cuts of meat with less visible white fat.
Some fat in our diet is essential but most of us eat too much. Plant-based oils like vegetable, rapeseed and olive oil are rich in unsaturated fat, so they can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Lower fat unsaturated spreads are a good alternative to butter.
Good to know
Some fats are healthier than others but all fats have a lot of calories – limit them in your child's diet to help stay at a healthy weight.
Food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar include chocolate, cakes, biscuits, savoury snacks and full-sugar soft drinks. In Scotland, half of the sugar we eat and around 20% of the calories and fat we consume comes from this kind of food. High fat, salt and sugar food and drink tends to have lots of calories and with little nutritional value and we don’t need it as part of a healthy balanced diet.
If you do want to include this kind of food in your diet, do it less often and in small amounts.
Most of us eat too much sugar – in fact, we need to reduce the amount of sugar we eat by two-thirds. Too much sugar increases the risk of tooth decay and obesity.
The body constantly loses fluid through breathing, sweating or going to the toilet and therefore this needs to be replaced. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid each day to help keep the body hydrated.
Water, lower fat milk and sugar free drinks, including tea and coffee all count. Choose sugar free options instead of sugary drinks.
Limit consumption of fruit juices and smoothies to no more than a combined total of 150ml per day, because they are high in sugar.
We get dehydrated when we don’t drink enough fluid. One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling thirsty but you may notice other signs:
Why the need for a healthy lunch
Foods and drinks high in fat and / or sugar It is important not to fill up on too many foods that are high in fat and / or sugar at the expense of other more nutritious foods. Limiting high fat and sugar foods will help protect children from becoming overweight as well as helping prevent tooth decay, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Please support us by not including these items in a packed lunch
A choice of only one of the following is permitted per day:
N.B Grapes are a great fruit however if you do wish your child to have them in their lunch box - they must be cut in half - there have been reorts in the media that a child / children have choked by one slipping whole down the child's throat.