Updated: Jul 7
Finally, having not conducted our bi-annual study since pre-Covid and with the rising cost of living, whilst also seeing a huge shift in school meals, we are proud to finally release a 2022 UPDATE on what is cheaper, Packed lunches or school meals? For some context, Paul produced the first study back in 2018, which set out the rules of the study and also concluded that using Tesco, Sainsbury's and Aldi prices, that in compiling a well-balanced and nutritious school meal using the School Food Plan (required for all schools/ catering providers to use for their school menu planning) it can't be done for the (then) averaged cost of a school meal that works out to roughly £10 a week.
(2018 School meals vs Packed Lunch survey) Two years later, having made a lot of noise around the topic and the study being published in various press outlets whilst being the subject of much discussion in both the school catering world and the parenting world we tidied up findings, and added two more supermarkets and rewrote our menu in its most simple form (the food detailed below would likely fill half a weeks worth of food based on the SFP). In March 2020, we published a 2020 version, which hit the national headlines including The SUN and The Express again concluding that it CAN'T be done.
(2020 version of study)
2022 - POST-COVID, can it be done?
It seemed that this year would go one way or another, with prices at their most competitive and discount stores looking to capitalise on the ensuring their products were as low as possible, we were unsure how things will have gone.
With Brexit settled in, Covid causing food costs to go through the roof, supply issues - School Food providers getting consistently nailed with insulting low-cost expectations - in our minds, this would be our best yet - with 'cost of goods' reported as being up nearly 15% to this time a year ago, it was expected this would be reflected.
We wanted to respectfully keep the 'menu' the same as our 2020 amended version (which considers the school food plan) so we have a good comparison, and we also opted to remove Morrisons (sorry guys) as we didn't feel like adding two extra supermarkets from the 2018 study added much. And Morrisons is pretty mid-range, so it doesn't represent anything different to others.
So, we get on to the study. The first thing to say, is, that when we wrote the 2020 version, we spent a lot of time trying to match Aldi's food options to other supermarkets (At the time, Aldi sold Alpen bars) however, in 2022, Aldi being Aldi have rotated their branded stock out, so in parts, we've found the 'nearest item' to what was outlined in 2020. This happened on a couple of occasions in other Supermarkets too.
However, on the whole, it's well represented.
Costs are accurate using a combination of online and in-person research (to give variety and fairness) from the Midlands area (where we are based).
Like before, the foods outlined below detail roughly half a weeks worth of menus (it would have been far too long of a document to detail a week's worth of shopping with so much variety)
So, the results.
As you can see, costs are expectantly through the roof.
With a couple of stores being almost SIX POUNDS more expensive than two years previous. Meanwhile, school meals remain just 15p more expensive than two years ago. The outcome is Packed lunches are 105% more expensive than School Meals.
We have an issue in this country with the number of pupils opting to consume packed lunches over school meals, despite these rising costs.
Once again, the discrepancy between school meals vs packed lunches is vast. Packed lunches are more expensive than ever before.
IN 2022, Packed lunches are 105% more expensive than school meals
The reality is, the time it takes to create a well-balanced and nutritious packed lunch using the school food plan, using these menus and the COSTS of fuel (£2 a litre I paid yesterday 🤒) compared to the quality of food being served to pupils in school for less than £2.25 (for a hot two-course meal) is simply not worth it.
The balance of the time it takes for a parent to build a menu of this compliance whilst also driving to the supermarket and purchasing these foods just doesn't make any sense.
Furthermore, as I sit here, it's reported that 4.3 million pupils are coming to school hungry each day, whilst only 60% of pupils eligible for universal and Free School meals are opting to consume them is drawing attention to another issue... and it's one that we're tackling every day.
I can confidently tell you having gone into 141 schools this year two things that you can address if you have ANYTHING to do with school lunchtimes:
School food is good. So stop worrying about it
Pupils aren't eating it because schools are showcasing packed lunches as the better option. Ask children - they don't have school meals because of how lunchtimes are being run, not because of the food. Fact.
We'll forever bang this drum.
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