Rob Rees, last week appointed chairman of the School Food Trust, is calling on school headteachers to adopt a lunchtime lock-in policy in a bid to encourage healthy eating habits.
The former chef, who took over the role from television cook Prue Leith, said to the Independent: "I would like headteachers to have a policy of no one being offsite during lunchtime. Schools that have done this have found improvements in behaviour in the afternoon."
He added that schools unwilling to detain children at lunchtime should at least demand that local fast-food outlets provide healthier fare.
"If you're going to let them off site, at least negotiate with the local chippie not to put salt cellars out for them," he said. "That tiny thing can make a difference. There's enough salt in the fish and chips anyway."
Rees said he thought that parents would back the ban because children who have a good, nutritional meal at lunchtime might not need a very big meal in the evening.
The SFT chair urged schools to buy in local produce rather than pre-packaged food and said that pupils should be treated as customers, adding that they should be enticed with better meals. "After all, in secondary schools, if they are allowed out at lunchtime, they can take their money elsewhere," he added.
However, Rees' proposal has been met with resistance. Chris Davies, former chairman of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said: "Most headteachers are already in favour of improving pupils' nutrition and diet but shutting the school gates in order to achieve that is a step too far," he said.
"Preventing pupils from leaving the premises is a less imaginative strategy. It is difficult to enforce, puts further pressure on staff and it is likely to lead to disgruntled parents and children complaining about their civil rights."
He suggested that reducing the length lunchtime and there fore allowing pupils less time to be offsite might be a more appropriate strategy.
By Janie Stamford
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