Soggy semolina and concrete chips – My beef with school dinners.

Why is my son’s school making it difficult for me to help him choose his lunch (or dinner as they call it)? They had started so well. He enjoys it and it seems pretty healthy so what’s my problem? Oh that’s right. I’m a control freak.

Ask my son what he wants to eat morning, noon or night and the reply will be “beans and mashed potato” whilst enthusiastically jumping up and down. I actually called his bluff one morning and gave him it for breakfast. He loved it. His mum was less impressed.

When I was a cabbie I used to deliver a young lad to his school and in their lobby was the menu. I was horrified by it. Bread with pasta, followed by a cakey pudding? It didn’t seem too unhealthy as such, just really imbalanced. That’s the one dish that sticks in my mind but it was all pretty poor. Pizza and chips etc.

So I was relieved when we finally received our son’s first school menu. Really well though out, apparently healthy, genuine choice and only one iffy day out of 15 (3 week rotation) “Pork & Sweet Potato Pie”. Sounds delicious to me but pork can be tricky to eat depending on how it’s cooked. Stringy bits can get between your teeth and he’s not good at dealing with that. A slightly more detailed description would be handy but never mind, He’ll just have something different that day. “Shepherdess pie” is another one that could do with annotation. It is vegetarian hence the “ess” no doubt. (I’m not even going to get into the gender stereotype issue here, readers of previous posts will anticipate my stance) But what is it? Quorn? Veggies? I’m guessing mashed potato will feature which will make him a happy boy but we just don’t know.

There is always a jacket potato option. Highly approve. Sometimes it’s just with cheese, but other days it’s with tuna mayo or similar. Great!

They have a great meal choosing system. All the kids have a little rock with their name on it and they put the rock in the basket with their meal choice attached to it. Fabulous. I’m loving this school. So why, after only one week in have they decided to ban parents from the classroom at drop off time? We’re allowed in the room next to it, but the meal choice baskets (4) are in the classroom. A teaching assistant will ask the kids what they want. He will say jacket potato or packed lunch because he’s heard the word “lunch” or “potato” in it. He’s so excited to be at school, he’s not fully listening to what she’s saying and knows he has to answer before moving on even if we’ve only just discussed what he’s having and he’d prefer the alternative. I have to stand at the entrance of the room to double-check what he’s chosen which involves shouting above the sound of all the excited kids. “No not packed lunch, spaghetti Bolognese” He’d have gone hungry that day. Why not just let us in or move the baskets to where the parents are? I just don’t see the point. It takes double the time than if I could just go in and help. I just want to know (and control to a certain extent) what he’s going to be eating.

It affects our menu at home. Especially where fish is concerned. We don’t want to give him fish fingers twice in a day and equally we don’t want him to miss out. We are really conscientious about what we feed him. My wife is great at ensuring he gets a real balance and with thought about his upcoming activities/sleep etc. I am assured that should he not eat well at lunch time we’d be informed but I just have to take their word (or lack of) for it. I guess it’s just part of relinquishing a degree of control to the school. But he is our baby and they have loads of kids to worry about.

I was brought up very much in the vein of “If you don’t eat yer meat you can’t have any pudding, how can you have any pudding of you don’t eat yer meat” (Pink Floyd – The Wall) Not being allowed to get down from the table before we’d finished etc. Part, I suspect, of the reason I’m 18 stones now. I want him to eat enough but not too much. He’s really good at telling us when he’s had enough and we never force him to eat more. Snacks are considered depending on how he’s eaten his meals. Treats are treats.

Is it too much to ask to be just that slightly bit more involved in this process or am I being (admittedly characteristically) dramatic? Today, for example, I broke the enemy line and discovered that he hadn’t eaten his banana yesterday. I’d not have known otherwise. I would have either retrieved it yesterday or given him another one. I don’t really want him having two, but yesterday he came home much more exhausted than usual. A banana boost during the day would have perked him up and aided his learning/playing.

He’s only 4 and I’m a real believer in my sister’s maxim “You can only make a Tesco value cake from Tesco value ingredients” No offence Tesco. I just want ensure he get’s the best start in life. Is that too much to ask? A better start than I had at least. No offence Mum.


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