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.
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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