Pupils throwing ‘dull’ pack lunches in the bin

Flora and Josie O'Brien tuck into their packed lunch. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Flora and Josie O'Brien tuck into their packed lunch. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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‘BORED” school pupils are ditching up to £3 worth of packed lunch food every day – as increasing numbers of parents fail to provide appealing and interesting meals.

Researchers have discovered an epidemic of “lunchbox fatigue” just weeks into the new term, with youngsters quickly tiring of the narrow range of food items provided by time-pressed mums and dads, and dumping up to half of it in dining hall bins.

Around half of school children waste almost £40 worth of food each term – close to the cost of the average family weekly shop – as they discard lunchbox items deemed “too boring” to eat.

With the weekly packed lunch bill jumping to £12 in Edinburgh, and some families shelling out as much as £25, parents are feeling the pinch.

And although special supervisors are stationed in many school dining halls to ensure packed lunches are eaten, researchers warned kids were still throwing away huge quantities of food in the rush to get out to the playground.

Nutritionists and parent have branded the findings “worrying”. Emma Conroy of Edinburgh Nutrition, and a mother-of-two, said: “I can’t think what people are putting in lunchboxes if they’re spending as much as £25.

“It doesn’t have to be like that. There are plenty of convenient, affordable and healthy foods that will appeal to kids and which they’ll actually eat.”

Many parents made the switch to packed lunches following the horsemeat scandal. Concerns about a lack of nutrition in school meals have also fuelled the change.

But the new research – based on a sample of 1500 UK mums and carried out by Cheestrings – shows the change is not always as easy as ABC.

Researchers found it takes less than a week after the start of the new term for parents to develop lunchbox “fatigue” and for the variety of items prepared to dwindle.

And with the average lunchbox offering a less than inspiring combination of cheese sandwiches, water and sugar-based juice drinks and bashed-up bananas, around half the contents end up binned.

Even more depressingly for parents, researchers found vegetables were among the food items most likely to be ditched.

Food experts said presentation would be key to reversing 
the trend. Nutritionist Dr Evelyn Hannon said: “It’s all about how you present things like fruit and vegetables to your children. You could give them vegetable sticks, but maybe do it with a dip or cream cheese or yoghurt. If it’s presented in a fun way and with variety, the child will be encouraged to eat it.”

Political leaders said the figures should provide a wake-up call to the Capital.

Melanie Main, education spokeswoman for the city’s Greens, said: “I know, as a mum, providing variety and striking a balance between healthy and desirable can be difficult, and parents worry when meals are not eaten. What is in a daily packed lunch or school dinner will help form habits for a lifetime – good or bad.

“The school lunchtime experience should be at the centre of our strategy for improving the diets and eating habits of our young people.”

‘I don’t know how you can spend £25. that’s a lot even for an adult’

MUM-of-three Xanthe O’Brien, 43, from Craigentinny, seems to have cracked the challenge of providing a daily lunchbox that’s nutritious and affordable – and gets eaten.

Daughters Flora, seven, and Josie, five who attend Royal High Primary, are sent to school with cream cheese, ham or tuna sandwiches, sticks of cucumber and carrot, yoghurt and fruit such as apples and oranges.

Their thirst is quenched with bottles of water and the only concession to sweet teeth is the occasional chocolate biscuit.

And as well as providing lunches that tick the healthy eating boxes, Xanthe spends considerably less than the £25 forked out by some parents. She estimates her weekly lunch bill for each child comes in at around £5.

Even more crucially, her daughters come home on most days with empty lunchboxes and full stomachs.

She said: “Usually the girls eat their veg. They’re usually pretty good about that.

“I chop the veg up into sticks because it’s easier for them to eat, and inside their lunchboxes the food will be in Tupperware pots.

“I think they like opening the pots and I cut their sandwiches up into smaller, little sandwiches.”

She admits to being taken aback by the amount that some families in the city spend on food that all too often ends up binned.

“I don’t think anyone I know spends £25 on packed lunches each week,” she said.

“I don’t even know how you would spend that much. Even for an adult lunch, that would be quite a lot. If you’re preparing the food at home, it should be a lot cheaper.”

For Xanthe, a big factor in encouraging Flora and Josie to eat everything they are given is variety, with her daughters getting packed lunches on two days each week and school meals the rest of the time.

“Maybe they don’t get bored as they’re not getting the same thing every day,” she said.

Eldest daughter Flora, now in P3 at Royal High, has few complaints.

She said: “I always like the sandwiches. I like the cheese and ham. I like the taste of it.

“And I like the vegetables, just for a change. No-one else does at my school.

“My best friend gets a cheese and ham sandwich with a yoghurt and Peperami.

“Just sometimes I leave food in my packed lunch because I want to catch up with my friends playing outside.”