School caterers are being urged to reiterate the health benefits to children that have a cooked school lunch.

The call to action follows in the wake of new research which reveals parents in the UK are struggling to make healthy choices for their children with more than a third (36%) admitting they feel guilty that they aren’t providing a healthy enough school lunchbox.

According to independent research commissioned by Tetra Pak, one in four parents find it difficult to choose healthy food for their child’s lunchbox, and 52% say that their child decides what food and drink is included. The research compiled the views of 1,000 parents with primary school age children and comes at a time when more than a third of children leave primary school overweight or obese.

Kyri Shiamtanis, registered dietician who worked on the research, said: “It is vital that we teach children about nutrition at an early age, and that they learn how their diet can support them in achieving success throughout life. More than half (57%) of parents said that they often try to choose healthy items for their child’s lunchbox, before realising that the product is not as healthy as they first thought.”

However, LACA chair Tim Blowers is urging parents to choose school meals instead – and suggests school caterers reinforce the benefits of school meals at every opportunity. He said: “School food provides varied and healthy meals that are held to rigorous standards, standards that we know that only 1% of packed lunches meet. If parents want to ensure that their children are being fed nutritionally balanced meals, then choosing school meals is a guarantee of this. In turn, the Universal Infant Free School Meals policy provides all children in years reception, one and two with a healthy meal for free every school day and saves parents on average £400 a year. We would encourage parents to take up this offer and more broadly to take up school meals whenever they can to be assured that their children will be fed well in school.”

Stefan Fageräng, managing director, Tetra Pak North-West Europe, added: “Lunch clubs, breakfast clubs, afterschool activities and even the national curriculum should all be used to teach children about healthy nutrition, so that children can pass this message on and better influence what their parents purchase for them in future.”

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Messages that caterers should reinforce to parents:

• School meals meet government food standards

• School meals are low in fat and sugar with recipes specially developed for children

• Daily servings of vegetables, salad and fresh fruit are provided

• Dishes offered are often oven baked in preference to frying

• Ingredients are checked for unnecessary additives and allergens

• School meal offers Value for Money and can save parents time in their busy daily schedule