The Food Standards Agency is looking into funding a Barnardo's project to make packed lunches healthier.
Now that celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has instigated a revolution in the quality of school dinners, Barnardo's wants to focus attention on the contents of pupils' lunchboxes. Separate research carried out by Barnardo's and the FSA in 2003 and 2004 respectively showed that packed lunches require just as radical an overhaul.
"Kids are four times more likely to have crisps in their lunchbox than a piece of fruit," said Anna Ludvigsen, a researcher at Barnardo's. She said it had been easy to improve the quality of school dinners once the public was alerted to the problem, but it was much harder to raise the standard of packed lunches.
The School Lunchbox Intervention Project will evaluate the nutritional content of packed lunches at the start and end of the project, after Barnardo's staff have held sessions to advise parents how and why they should provide healthier food. Participants will also be taught how to deal with food refusals and 'pester power'.
Parents of nine and ten-year-olds at up to 20 schools will be offered the advice sessions in the pilot stage. Low-income areas and ethnic minority groups will be targeted.
The study is projected to last two years, although the intervention will last four months at each school. The idea is that parents would be trained as 'peer health educators', and could continue the sessions with other parents after Barnardo's withdraws.
Ludvigsen said schools had already begun signing up to take part.
The FSA said a decision on the grant would be made next month.