Your child’s school lunch – can a school decide what your child eats?

School lunchbox with food in it

A primary school in Bradford found itself under fire from some parents who have called the school’s new healthy eating policy “ridiculous.”

The school banned items such as sausage rolls, pork pies and squash from packed lunch boxes in a bid to encourage healthy living at an early age. The policy is a whole school policy impacting on all pupils who attend. But it does raise the question, can schools really dictate what children eat during the day? 

Tees’ Polly Kerr is an education lawyer advising parents on education matters such as: exclusions, appeals, special education needs and education health and care plans. In this article, Polly explains more about lunchbox rules. Call our specialist solicitors on 0808 231 1320

In January 2015, the government introduced a new set of rules and regulations, which governed the type of foods that schools could provide to pupils during the school day and it became the responsibility of the school to ensure that they met (and continue to meet) the School Food Standards practical guide updated May 22. These include the following:

  • 1 or more portions of vegetables or salad as an accompaniment every day
  • at least 3 different fruits, and 3 different vegetables each week
  • an emphasis on wholegrain foods in place of refined carbohydrates
  • an emphasis on making water the drink of choice: 
  • limiting fruit juice portions to 150mls
  • restricting the amount of added sugars or honey in other drinks to 5%
  • no more than 2 portions a week of food that has been deep fried, batter coated, or breadcrumb coated
  • no more than 2 portions of food which include pastry each week

Interestingly the School Food Standards regulations do not apply to academies established between September 2010 and June 2014 but it is recommended that they be used as a guide and adopted voluntarily by these schools.

There are some exceptions to these rules, such as parties or celebrations, fund-raising events, rewards for achievement or good behaviour, food used for teaching food preparation or cookery skills and on an occasional basis by parents or pupils. So the odd chocolate bar for celebrating a classmate’s birthday is not prohibited by the regulations.

Schools in England must also provide free drinking water to all pupils at all times whilst they are in school and are prohibited from selling drinks with added sugar, chocolate or sweets in vending machines.

Whilst the government have tightened the rules around food supplied by a school in a bid to make children healthier, packed lunches brought in from home are not caught by the regulations.

However, schools are allowed to set their own policies regarding the types of food consumed on their premises during the school day and, provided that the policies implemented by the schools do not breach the school’s obligations under the Equality Act 2010 or any other relevant legislation, schools are free to determine what their pupils bring to school to eat during the day and, if their policies allow, to confiscate or challenge the inclusion of prohibited items within packed lunches. 

This article was originally published in November 2017 in Salad Days ( 

To check if your child can get free school meals in England and apply to your local authority website - visit

Ideas for your child's packed lunch:

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Legal Director, Dispute Resolution and Litigation, Cambridge office

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