#35 School dinners

In Food & Drink, Gratuitous nostalgia, Kids on March 10, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I wouldn’t exactly say I’d do anything for a free lunch, but this week I have set the bar pretty low.

Our primary school issued an invitation to parents to come and sample the school dinners to see what their children were eating.  It was free. I went.

My own memories of primary school lunches are surprisingly rosy: meat pie, traffic light pie, cornflake pie (jam tart with a crunchy cornflake topping) … fairly pie based in fact, but it was Manchester and it was the 70s. And beetroot. Always a little tub of beetroot on the table. Even before we knew about things like five-a-day and superfoods. Some people, like my friend Mary McGinty, went home for dinner, but I don’t remember packed lunch being an option, except for school trips to Chester Zoo. And only hippies were vegetarians.

If you believe the Daily Mail, today children are given nothing but chips, burgers, fizzy drinks, and packaged, processed food, on a budget of 40p a day. This is actually bollocks. Most schools now have healthy eating policies (ours bans fizzy drinks and ‘Ribena-style drinks’ in packed lunches), allergy policies that ban nuts within a 100m radius, and charge about £1.80 a day (with meals still free for families on benefits).

Guidance for the children on how to construct a balanced meal on their plate is hit and miss – my son thinks pizza and chips and bread is a good lunch, but then my health-conscious (southern) daughter can’t process the concept of a chip butty because it involves two carbohydrates simultaneously. The difference is, I know it’s bad for me.

I’ve read that in France they enjoy grilled chicken and fresh fruit, Ukraine they have borsch and sausages, and in Norway they have to take packed lunches and eat them in the classroom (clearly training them for eating at their desks in office life). See the BBC on  school dinners around the world

For my big free lunch, I was hoping they’d push the boat out and give us chicken curry, but sadly it was that school dinner staple – mince.  To be fair, it was ok quality mince, not gristly, with some carrot chunks and peas thrown in. Bolognese, without the herbs. Or tomato. Or taste. A bit watery, but at least not oily. Served on a bed of engorged pasta twists that seemed to jiggle with delight at their own sponginess (or not in my case – controversially I loathe pasta). The savoy cabbage was less overcooked than you’d expect, fresh tasting and seasonal. And there was a salad bar – yes, they still serve beetroot.

For what they called ‘dessert’ for us (pudding to the kids) the apple crumble was really not bad (some parents judged the topping too floury) though the high vis custard was best left well alone. We were even treated to a fruit platter featuring quite fragrant  cantaloupe melon and pineapple. Service was efficient and it’s amazing how dinner ladies master the art of ‘slopping’, even when they’re serving something relatively edible.

Would I eat here again? Probably not if I had to pay, but I’m happy for my son to if it gets me out of having to make him a packed lunch.

  1. Traffic light pie…? Say what now?

    • Traffic light pie! Large jam tart with one strip red jam (strab or rasp), one amber jam (apricot) and one green (lime curd – I think). As I remember, there was always a fight to get a slice of the ‘amber’.

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