Lifting the lid on school lunches

By Jocelyn Levy | 2nd November 2020 | 9 min read

A packed lunch from home or a meal in the canteen – it seems school lunches are a subject of hot contention today, with school staff, parents and education leaders weighing in on the best solution for students when the bell rings for lunchtime.

Just a few weeks ago, a judge in Italy ruled that schools have the right to ban packed lunches. While many considered this a positive step towards ensuring equality across student communities, many parents raised concerns around children’s food preferences, allergies and dietary requirements. 

In a recent article with The Sunday Times, Great British Bake-Off judge, Prue Leith, shared her own opinion on school lunches, arguing in favour of vegetarian options. The famous baker called on schools to ban packed lunches in order to restrict access to unhealthy food, stating that all state school students should receive two free vegetarian meals, every week. 

While many parents are in uproar at the suggestion of a packed-lunch ban, a number of schools across the country are supposedly seeing the benefits of a canteen culture. The Swan School in Oxford has made the bold move to not only ban packed lunches but to serve only vegetarian options. Headteacher, Kay Wood, argued the school’s case for their veggie menu for three reasons: the environmental benefits of meat-free meals, better quality options for students at the same cost, and a menu which meets all dietary and faith requirements. 

The benefits of a packed lunch

For many parents, the main concern regarding a ban on packed lunches is the options available to their children in the canteen. Particularly for primary school-aged children, food can cause a lot of anxiety; only a parent truly knows what their child will happily eat, and many fear their child will choose to go hungry rather than eat something they are unfamiliar with or simply don’t enjoy.

When it comes to dietary requirements and allergies, too, a packed lunch places the responsibility of a child’s lunch firmly in the hands of the parent, alleviating the school of any responsibility to meet a variety of very specific needs.

Making the case for the canteen

With a ban on packed lunches, the canteen quickly becomes the hub of a school campus. When the bell rings for lunchtime, all students head to the canteen, choosing from the same menu and eating alongside their peers.

Unlike a packed lunch, school dinners ensure every student receives the same nutritious options. With childhood obesity on the rise, the school canteen plays a vital role in supporting students with positive food options. Disadvantaged students need not worry about their packed lunches or the stigma attached to Free School Meals; every student has the same lunchtime experience and receives a filling, healthy meal. 

Educating children about different foods, cultures and diets is a great way of emphasising the importance of a healthy lifestyle, too. The canteen offers up a range of different meal options, inspiring students to try something new – even the most creative of parents is likely to struggle providing a tasty and exotic pack-up, every day! 

Food for thought

It seems we all have a different opinion on the who, what, where and potentially even when of school lunches. However, the popularity of school dinners is certainly on the rise and, as such, it’s time to consider the practicalities of improving the canteen experience for all staff and students. 

Lunchtime in the canteen can be chaotic if not properly managed; long queues, poor till processes and delayed ordering all contribute to a stressful experience. Hungry staff and students want to be seated with a hot meal quickly and efficiently, enabling them to enjoy the rest of their break before heading back to the classroom.  

Clunky cash payments not only cause headaches at the till but in the office, too. Collecting, counting and banking cash is a time-consuming job that many busy teams can ill afford. Coins and notes can also cause problems for pupils; being the only one not seen to be seen purchasing their dinner highlights a student’s status as claiming Free School Meals; for students prone to forgetting their lunch money, dinner money debt can quickly spiral out of control. 

Whether your school decides to put a ban on packed lunches or mix up your menu with a meat-free twist, it’s up to you to implement a system that saves time, protects costs and supports staff and students.  

FasTrak streamlines lunchtimes in the canteen and reduces admin in the school office. With online accounts, parents can top of their child’s dinner money in moments. At the till, students pay via ID card, pin or biometric fingerprint, speeding up queues and delivering the same experience to every pupil. Providing parents with detail of menu options and payments puts more control into their hands, encouraging uptake in your canteen and ensuring all students benefit from a healthy lunch.  

The benefits of a cashless canteen go far beyond reduced dinner money debt and time savings; schools are better placed to manage suppliers, reduce waste and improve menu choices. Our flexible ordering systems and payment options meet the needs of all schools. We’ll work with you to implement a system that suits your community.

Provide every student with a healthy, happy lunchtime and improve your canteen culture with FasTrak.