US school salad bar

The government wants schools to up their offer of fruit and vegetables at lunch time

Packed lunches could be banned and pupils barred from leaving school premises during lunch breaks to buy junk food, according to new government plans.

A government-commissioned report, drawn up by John Vincent and HenryDimbleby, founders of 'healthy' fast food chain Leon, has urged schools to reverse the poor perception of school meals.At present over half (57 per cent) of pupils take a packed lunch or buy food outside of school.

UK parents currently spend up to£1billion annually on packed lunches, with only 1 per cent of the lunches meeting nutritional standards, according to the report, which also suggests that school meals are much healthier alternatives. Schools are also being encouraged to implement bans on sugary drinks, sweets and even total bans on packed lunches in order to improve student productivity.

The plans include a £11.8 million investment from the Department of Health to help increase the take-up of meals, and £3.15m to provide children, who are 'too hungry in the mornings to learn', with free breakfasts. It is also recommended that teachers eat alongside pupils in the dining hall and that schools provide cooking to lessons for both parents and their children after school hours.

The plans have been praised by food charity Magic Breakfast and its founder Carmel McConnell who was an advisor for the report.

She said:“For the past 10 years, including three years as Board Member of the School Food Trust, I’ve campaigned for more breakfast support for hungry children as well as improved lunches, aware that good school food drives child educational access and attainment. We know from our own research that a hungry or malnourished child cannot concentrate and will fall behind in lessons. We can’t emphasise enough how important it is for children to be given nutritious food at school because, sadly, all too often there are empty cupboards at home”.

In recent months, education secretary MichaelGovehas come under attack from the Labour-appointed TV chef Jamie Oliver for creating a dip in food standards among children. Currently, almost a fifth of British children are obese by the time they leave primary school.

Oliver, a prominent campaigner for healthier food choices within UK schools, toldFPJin an exclusive interview last month that there was already an agreement in place for cooking lessons to go into schools nationwide, but admitted he still doesn't completely trust the government's stance on the issue.

He said: “We’ve already got an agreement with education secretary MichaelGovefor cooking lessons to go into schools from September 2014, which is a big step in the right direction. But there’s still a long way to go and I’m carefully watching to make sure that the detail is right and that the government doesn’t try to wriggle away from some good, much-needed work in school food.”

Pilots of the report's recommendations will be implemented in several schools across two London boroughs later this year.