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A Parent’s Guide to…. school lunches

With all schools confirmed to reopen for in September, the new Autumn term really just a few weeks away – have you started thinking about what your kids will be eating when they’re back in the school canteen?  

Whether they’re starting a new school or heading back for another year, you’ll want to make sure that all the healthy habits you’re working on at home are being kept up at lunch time.  

It can be tricky as schools don’t exactly make it easy to make healthy choices whether it be fish and chip Fridays, daily pizza slices or tuck shops. There is temptation at every corner.  

While healthy school meals is a hot topic, there doesn’actually seem to be a lot of information out there on how to make sure your child gets a healthy lunch at school.   

So what can we do?  

Extra healthy snacks

Putting fruit in their bag even if they normally buy school lunches….  

When they feel that pang of hunger, it may actually be easier to reach into their bag to grab that orange you left there than walk over the canteen and queue. By making the healthier option the easier option they are more likely to stick to healthy snacks rather than being tempted by whatever the tuck shop is enticing them with.  

Person putting a coin in a piggy bank
No extra money

If you are already providing a healthy packed lunch for them they don’t need extra money to go to the shop. They are much less likely to eat what you have provided if they also have the means to buy whatever they want.  

A chalkboard menu
Check the menu in advance

Often if you look at the school lunch caterers, they will have a weekly rolling menu. Download this and look at it at home with your child and discuss the healthy options. If your child is at primary school, you can choose the options for your child in advance so that you know what they are being served is the healthiest option.  

A salad bar
Watch out for salad bars!

Often the salad bars at schools will be self-service, however, the ‘salad’ often also includes pasta and potato salad as well as highly ‘mayo’d’ coleslaw. If we look at our Eatwell Guide these ‘salads’ wouldn’t fall into our fruit a vegetable section, as we would want a salad to. Make sure your child is clued up on how to build a balanced plate so that they don’t overdose on carbs and skimp on the veggies.  

A toy cash register
What are they spending their money on?

Most secondary schools now have a pre-paid card or even a fingerprint system to pay for food in the canteen. This also stores all the info on what has been bought so you as a parent can check. If this is something that works for both of you, this can be an easy way to check what your child is buying for lunch at school, and discuss it at home if necessary. 


Family problem solving together
Joint problem solving

Joint problem solving is when both you and your child work towards a solution that you are both happy with. Could there be one day in the week when they’re allowed to choose whatever they want – as long as the rest of the week they choose the healthier options? It is important that you both agree the terms. What will be the consequences if this agreement is not stuck to? Do you both understand why you have made this agreement? 

Sliding name boards saying in and out
Energy Balance

It is important to remember energy balance. Whatever is eaten for lunch needs to be considered when deciding what to eat for dinner. For example, some children may find that their school lunch is their main meal of the day, this means that their evening meal doesn’t need to be as big. This will help keep us healthy and in energy balance.  


You wouldn’t order takeaway pizza everyday so why have it at school every day? Often pizza is an option every day and one of the cheapest things on the menu! They don’t make it easy. It’s also one of the easiest options to eat on the go. Remind your child that this is not a healthy option and should just be enjoyed occasionally.  

Free school meals

You can check if you’re eligible for free school meals here: 


I'll have what he's having...

Peers have a large influence on young people and often children will stick together at school even if it inconveniences them e.g queuing for food even when they don’t intend to buy anything, this is perceived as better than sitting alone.  Know that they will probably not stick to healthy options all the time but remind them when they do slip, why it is that you’re both trying to make healthy choices. 


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