Kids Food Guarantee Update: Packed Lunches - November 2023
As children return to school after half term, we have conducted some light touch research into how much a reasonably healthy packed lunch costs from five of the major retailers.
This is a reassessment of the same products we looked at in August as children went back to school after the summer holidays to see if there has been any action by retailers to improve the affordability. Click here for the previous report.
The aim of this research is to assess how affordable a packed lunch is for the children who cannot afford a school meal and are not eligible for Free School Meals due to the tight eligibility criteria.
We are calling on Government to extend Free School Meals so that the most deprived children are not priced out of a hot, nutritious lunch with their peers, and in the meantime we’re asking supermarkets to ensure they are selling a healthy, convenient packed lunch at an affordable price.
The price for the packed lunch across the retailers came to:
The cost of the packed lunch increased at four of the five retailers we looked at – Tesco was the only retailer where the price decreased.
The weekly cost varied across the retailers from £8.30 to £11.80, a wider range than in September when it was between £8.39 and £11.42.
In comparison, a Free School Meal allowance is about £12.50 per week and so for children paying for a school lunch, a healthy packed lunch is not always significantly cheaper than buying lunch from the school canteen depending on which retailer and on what the school canteen offers.
The increase in price from August to now is in large part due to the small number of products on offer this time - last time, seven out of 50 products were on offer compared to just one product this time.
Interestingly, two products in Asda that were on offer last time research was conducted (in August), were no longer on offer in October, but the price of these products remained unchanged.
This price was also equivalent to other retailers’ price for the same products without offers, suggesting these offers may have been misleading rather than representing actual savings.
The price of the individual foods that make up the lunch were:
Overall, seven products have increased in price and three products have decreased in price.
The biggest increases were driven by popcorn no longer being on offer in two of the retailers, with smaller increases due to cucumber, apples and bananas becoming more expensive.
It is particularly concerning to see fruit and veg increasing in price – another area we will be exploring in more detail in future Kids Food Guarantee reports.
In our last report, we highlighted the large variation in the price of plain yogurt across the retailers. In October there was no change in the pricing of plain, unsweetened yogurt pots with these remaining the most expensive product in the packed lunch.
This means that families on tight incomes continue to be pushed towards buying less healthy options for their children.
Our Kids Food Guarantee is also calling on retailers to ensure that the cheapest options of products such as yogurts also have the best health profile.
What needs to happen?
Overall, the findings show that there has been no meaningful improvement in the affordability of this reasonably healthy packed lunch, and in most cases the price has crept up.
As part of our Kid’s Food Guarantee we are calling on retailers to offer lunchbox items that are compliant with School Food standards and make up five lunches that can be bought at affordable price point, for example through a multibuy deal.
No retailer currently has such a meal deal but this would go a long way to helping time-poor families on tight budgets to provide their children with a healthy packed lunch.
Items that could be included in any such deal include: wholegrain or 50:50 wheat products such as bread, rolls and wraps; snackable fruit and veg such as apples and carrots; sandwich fillings such as spreads and cheese; and single portion unsweetened yogurt pots.
- These food items have been taken as indicative items that can form part of a healthy packed lunch and are not an exhaustive list. We have chosen these items to gain a balance between a nutritious lunch and one which children may realistically eat as it’s important for low income families to provide food that their children will not reject so it doesn’t go to waste. Portion sizes would need to vary depending on the child’s age but this lunch is likely suitable for an older child, or a younger child including snacks eaten over the course of the school day.
- The closest comparable product between retailers was selected.
- We have looked at the cost of the lunch across the five retailers with the biggest share of the market.
- Products were available online from retailers websites on 23rd October.
- Multibuys were not included, single promotions were included.
- The price given is for the proportion of the product needed for the portion sizes given, not the full cost of the item.
- The full list of products analysed from each retailer is available here.