School dinners: Things ain’t what they used to be, thankfully.

Having just ordered some food in a cafe, my mind began to wonder. The food in this place wasn’t the best quality and it reminded me of school dinners, an element of life that has changed beyond all recognition since I was kid.

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Treat with caution! This bio-hazard is known as luncheon meat. It was a staple of my diet when I had school dinners. Thankfully, my kids have never heard of the stuff or eaten it.

Inspired by my thoughts, I asked Helen if she had a favourite school meal. “Roast dinner,” came her reply. I don’t think I ate roast dinner once during my entire time at school, but my kids are served a roast every week.

It didn’t end there. Oh no, Helen admitted she also enjoys “pizza panini.”

Pizza panini. Some people will think that’s a sign that of how pampered and spoilt our kids have become.

Me? I’m delighted my kids eat pizza panini. That said, I did get a slight pang of parental guilt that I have never attempted to create such a dish at home. Pizzas, yes, many a time, but pizza panini, no, I have never attempted this.

If I think back to my primary school days, I can recall getting excited about being served luncheon meat. Anyone under the age of 35 probably doesn’t even know what luncheon meat is. Trust me, that’s no bad thing.

I’ve never understood the appeal of this almost nutritious mix of fat, chemicals and heavily dyed, reconstituted offal. Quality wise, it must surely be on a par with cat food. It’s bizarre stuff and I wouldn’t allow my kids to eat it. When I was a child, however, it was the main element of many a meal when I was at school.

Better still, this stuff was sometimes deep-fat fried in batter. When produced this way, they were called fritters. I recall enjoying fritters as a kid but the thought of them now makes me feel queasy.

Thankfully, my children never talk of such heinous foods. Instead they come home talking about eating exotic items such as kiwi. I don’t think I’d eaten a kiwi fruit in my life until Helen asked for some, having been given some at school.

Mango is another example. With one memorable exception, I had never knowingly eaten mango until my kids were at school. My brief flirtation with mango took place when I went backpacking several years before I became a dad and it gave me an awful stomach bug.

At the time I was travelling through the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia. I hardly need to elaborate as to what exactly happened to me, suffice it to say that whatever entered my mouth, be it liquid or solid, re-appeared minutes later and after two days of this, I was in serious danger of becoming dreadfully dehydrated.

I had to seek medical attention and one of the nurses I saw, when told I had eaten fresh mango, explained that a certain species of fly lays eggs in the skin of the fruit that can make you very ill. This, she thought, was probably the cause of my ailment. It wasn’t until my kids were given mango at school that I once again became friends with this wonderful fruit.

Moving on from fruit, the meals we ate at secondary school were even worse. Burgers and chips seemed to be served every single day. I just don’t think you could get away with that these days and that’s a sign or progress.

I can’t pretend otherwise, when my eldest daughter first started school I seriously questioned whether school meals were the right choice.  A few years later, I have to admit I was too quick to criticise.

I don’t think my concerns were misplaced. School meals were dreadful when I was young. They put me off eating all manner of foods because it was prepared so badly and very little thought was given to the nutritional value of what any of us kids were eating.

Yes, I admit it, I am a convert to modern school dinners. If we ever return to the bad old days, I’d send my kids to school with a packed lunch without a second thought. For now however, they can get in line, take a tray and load it up with whatever delights the school canteen has to offer.

What delights do you remember from your time at school? Did you enjoy fritters? Maybe you had lumpy mash potato or baked beans and chips five times a week? Are you happy with what your kids eat, or do you send them to school with a packed lunch? There’s space to lave a comment below if you wish.  

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12 Comments

  1. January 28, 2019 / 11:20 am

    Haha! This is so true mate! School dinners were awful in my day I couldn’t tell the difference between gravy and custard, as I have mention custard we used pick our bowls up as they had numbers on the bottom which I did before eating my pudding and then promptly dropping it on my head. I was devastated and very upset. My mum had to come and fetch me from school, but I was only 6 years old at the time.
    The girls have packed lunches mainly because school dinners are so expensive. Fab read!

    • John Adams
      Author
      January 29, 2019 / 7:16 am

      In fairness Nigel, that was probably an awesome conditioner for your hair. Interesting what you say about packed lunches. I guess every school is different but looking at the prices, I worked out it was cost neutral. Then again, we still get free meals for the youngest. That’ll all end soon enough. May have to revise our approach at that point.

  2. Symatt
    January 28, 2019 / 11:39 am

    Oh wow. School dinners.
    First off, thanks for putting me off mango. Fly eggs. Gross.
    I loved school dinners. There was choice of only 2 items but it was a choice. Sponge and custard was my favourite dessert and lasagne was my favourite dinner.
    At the children’s homes I attended (may have mentioned before) made meals on site. Seeing them cooking in the kitchens was fun and when the meals came out. Well, delicious. Baked Alaska. I’ll never forget how good that was.

    I don’t think I have memories of bad food. Maybe just getting a great meal was all that matters to some. Just something to eat is all they need. What are you used too.
    If you get less at home or Maybe just junk in the form of sweets or crisps because food can be expensive when life is a struggle.
    School dinners have come a long way.

    • John Adams
      Author
      January 29, 2019 / 7:15 am

      I wouldn’t worry too much about the fly eggs. I think commercially grown mangoes will be fine. This one was straight out of the rainforest!

      I guess you are right, it does depend on your background and what you get at home. To some school meals would be something to look forward to. For thiose in that situation, I’m simply glad the food is better than it used to be. Interesting perspective there and one that did make me pause for thought.

  3. January 29, 2019 / 9:40 am

    The school dinners I had as a kid were dreadful. Lots of completely unrecognisable stuff with no nutritional value. I did like spam fritters though! The stuff my kids eat now sounds lovely and I’m very happy they get healthy meals at school as well as at home.

    • John Adams
      Author
      February 2, 2019 / 6:32 am

      How odd Tom that we both remember fritters. And yes, I can recall getting excited about them!

  4. Judith
    January 30, 2019 / 8:49 am

    I remember a puddling we called chocolate concrete (shortbread I think) which was served with green peppermint custard!

    • John Adams
      Author
      February 2, 2019 / 6:31 am

      Yes, I think we had simialr at school as well. That said, this description could apply to a number of different dishes!

  5. February 3, 2019 / 8:01 am

    Thanks for linking to #Thatfridaylinky hope to see you next week

    • John Adams
      Author
      February 8, 2019 / 12:33 pm

      My pleasure Nigel! Will link up if I can.

  6. Iris Tilley
    February 4, 2019 / 2:47 pm

    Think i only ever liked Chips Pizza and rice pudding everything else wasnt very nice

    • John Adams
      Author
      February 8, 2019 / 12:32 pm

      Oooo, rice pudding! Yes, I ate that at school and I enjoyed it! Good call!