School Dinners vs Packed Lunch

School Dinners vs Packed Lunch

After 4-years of having school dinners, Zee started this term with his first home packed lunch. A move I had resisted up until now for a few reasons:

  • School lunches are free to children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2
  • I like the idea of him having a hot meal in the middle of the day
  • I searched for packed lunch ideas on Pinterest and the results terrified me!
  • I thought it would be a bit of a faff to prepare something varied, nutritional, creative (see above point) AND to his liking every single day

However, he was adamant that he wanted to switch from school dinners to a packed lunch because:

  • The queues for a school lunch are often quite long, which meant he missed out on valuable play time outside with his friends – children with a packed lunch can just sit down, eat and then go out to play
  • Portion size – he was always ravenous when I picked him up at the end of the school day (I suspect he was eating less in his rush to get to the playground)
  • All of his friends had a packed lunch and it “wasn’t fair”

So, I relented and said we could give it a go, but with a few conditions.

My main concern was that I didn’t want his lunch to always be bread based, so I am going to try to mix it up a bit with homemade soups, pasta, and rice salads. I was also quite insistent that he should not expect chocolate, crisps or cake in his lunch box! He pulled a bit of a face at first but quickly accepted my terms before I changed my mind again.

This week he has had tortilla wraps filled with ham/cheese/leftover roast chicken/egg and salad vegetables. I have varied the fruit offering daily with chunks of mango, strawberries, blueberries, satsumas and/or apple. I’ve also chucked in a few extra carrot and cucumber sticks to snack on, a yoghurt and a bottle of water.

So far, he has eaten everything in his lunch box and not rifled through my pockets in search of a snack as soon as he is out of the classroom so I already feel that he is eating more. In addition, I haven’t been giving him bread for breakfast or dinner if he’s having it for lunch, so I do need to find something quick and easy to replace our go-to scrambled eggs on toast after swimming on a Wednesday. The rest of the week, I cook a hot evening meal that we all try to sit down and eat together.

His lunch has taken minimal time to prepare in the morning, but as I chopped the veg and fruit in advance it really was just a case of assembling everything together. I also like that I can see how much he is actually eating – especially the veggies – and that he is not being enticed by the pudding option on the school menu every day.

It’s too early to tell whether a packed lunch is more cost-effective than a school dinner just yet, but this is something that I will have to sit down and work out properly in a few weeks time.

Overall, he seems a lot happier and it’s not really much extra work for me at all. Although there’s always a chance he’ll get bored with my daily food offerings when the novelty of having a packed lunch wears off!


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