School Dinners Or Packed Lunches?

School Dinners Or Packed Lunches?

Currently, children in England attending a government-funded school in reception, year one and year two classes receive a free school meal each day. When a child moves into year three and above this scheme stops and school meals are then chargeable. For the past three years, Henry has received a free school meal each day, but from September, as he will be going into year three, this will need to be paid for.

Certain families will still qualify for free school meals, and this is usually to do with income and benefits you may or may not be in receipt of. You can find out the full criteria for free school meals here.

It’s a shame the free school meal scheme ends for year three and older children. For some children, it provided at least one good meal a day during term time. Of course, lower-income families can still benefit, but there are so many families that don’t qualify yet will still struggle. School meals at Henry’s school are charged at £2.20 per day and although this is fantastic value for what they receive that works out at £11.00 per week – per child. For some families that just isn’t affordable.


An alternative to school meals is, of course, providing a packed lunch. Although there is still a cost associated with this, it can often be absorbed into the weekly food budget much easier. This is especially true if you have more than one child to consider.

Packed lunches have their own drawbacks as they require additional preparation in advance. If you are already short on time, then adding another task isn’t always helpful. There are also the packed lunch police to consider with most schools now taking on a healthy initiative; there are often strict rules about what constitutes a balanced lunchbox. Certain items that would have always had a place in a lunchbox are now firmly on the contraband list with some schools performing lunchbox inspections and confiscating offending items!

Henry’s Choice

Since Henry started school, he has wanted to have packed lunches, but I’ve always refused. It seemed ridiculous to provide a packed lunch when the Free School Meal scheme was in place. Now that he is entering year three, I posed the question to him: School meals or packed lunches?

On the one hand, a school meal means I don’t have to worry about having food in or preparing things in advance. The mornings can be hectic especially having Hugo in tow, and I do wonder how I would manage to add in making a lunchbox!! School meals provide that convenience, and since I already find juggling all the balls a challenge, this will be one thing off my mind.

Of course, Henry likes the idea of taking a packed lunch each day. Perhaps it’s the idea that he can take a lunchbox and choose the contents, but I’m 99.9% it’s the novelty more than anything else. The good thing about Henry’s school is that you can pick and choose each day so if he wants to take a packed lunch for some days and have a school meal, others that is absolutely fine.

Do your children have packed lunches or school meals? Do you prefer it one way or the other?

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  1. Kim Carberry
    27th August 2019 / 12:23 pm

    My girls mixed and matched. Some days they have packed lunch and other days the school meals. It all depended on what was on the menu at school. My girls are both starting new schools and colleges this year so at the moment they are wanting to have school meals to try them out. I prefer them to have a hot meal at school so then I know they’ve had at least one a day. x

    • sophiegw
      28th August 2019 / 12:08 pm

      I think that’s what Henry is going to do. I would rather he had a hot meal at school too!!!

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