Journeyman Jones: Grade A grub is put up for grabs
PUBLISHED: 12:41 23 February 2006 | UPDATED: 11:33 04 May 2010
SCHOOL dinners. Two words which, in the not-too-distant past, were sure to have most youngsters reaching for the packed lunch. Jamie Oliver hasn t really helped the situation in recent times. While it is admirable that the scooter-riding mockney has taken
SCHOOL dinners. Two words which, in the not-too-distant past, were sure to have most youngsters reaching for the packed lunch.
Jamie Oliver hasn't really helped the situation in recent times.
While it is admirable that the scooter-riding mockney has taken up the cause of making sure our children have decent food at school, it has also helped create the false impression that every school has a problem and is serving up unhealthy food.
I haven't yet given in to the all-pervading influence of Oliver, I've not even bought one of his cook books. I never even particularly disliked my school dinners, although I would have been frankly abnormal if I hadn't poked fun at them like everybody else.
Looking back on it now, I've got a lot of respect for our school cooks. They took a great deal of unwarranted stick, and just kept on smiling.
Sutton Primary School has always been keen to push the virtues of healthy eating. The Five-A-Day campaign, for five pieces of fruit and veg a day, is a big part of the thinking there, as is the National Fruit Scheme for Schools, which ensures that youngsters at Key Stage One get a free piece of fruit or veg each day.
We used to get free milk, until Thatcher Thatcher Milk Snatcher took it away. I still drink almost a pint of milk a day, which goes to show that eating habits picked up in one's formative years can be continued into adult life.
So what's the secret to making children eat healthily? I don't know about other kids, but when I was young, I found fruit and veg rather boring. I wasn't particularly encouraged to eat it by school staff either, whereas kids at Sutton are encouraged to bring it in, along with water as opposed to fizzy drinks.
"It's about encouraging children to try something," said head teacher Gill Gilbert. "We've got children here who have never tried a pear.
"They might say they don't like something, but at least they've tried it here. Some children have the opportunity to try all different kinds of foods at home, others don't."
Pauline has worked in the school's kitchen for 20 years. "At one time there wasn't really a choice," she tells me. "But then it got to the stage where convenience foods were used, which, to be honest, were probably more popular."
Gill and Pauline estimate that out of 250 pupils on roll, only about 80-90 eat school dinners. The rest have packed lunches. You can see them, like people in the expensive seats at football matches, sneering at the other kids.
Actually, they don't really do that. It's just my idea of humour. Every Friday, each pupil receives a menu for the following week to take home.
Here's a sample of some of the dishes on offer: fish grill, tuna bake, premium pork sausages, sliced turkey salad, oaty fruit crunch and broccoli florets.
There's a vegetarian option every day and bread is also served. As a result, I aim to have lunch at Sutton School every week while I work at this newspaper, probably on some flimsy pretext.
The children, who are all dressed as book characters to make my day even more surreal, certainly seem to be enjoying their food. "How do you like school dinners?" I ask one. "It's nice," he says. Children don't mess around. Not for them the flowers of rhetoric, the expansive prose. Just, "it's nice".
I've certainly got stuck into my cheese quiche. The other children, who are disappointingly not intimidated by my presence or that of the head, have stayed fairly quiet, which can only be a good sign.
I round things off with a plate of apple crumble and custard. Apple crumble has to be the ultimate desert island dessert. I would swap it for nothing.
In fact, there's much to be said for the whole meal. It's not so much that Cambridgeshire County Council's catering service has taken Jamie Oliver's advice, more that they have always been health conscious.
While schools such as Sutton are taking as much care as they do with their food, parents in the district can rest easy.
Pot Noodle anyone?