Imagine a room filled with pushing and shoving, mysterious lumpy food, and body odour mixed with the smell of several different meals hanging in the air. Remind you of anything? Hopefully you’re reminded of school lunches and not your own kitchen.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my home schooling experience, but this time I’m going to set the clock back to two years ago when I, too, was stuck in a building full of hormonal teenagers for six hours a day, and sweaty school lunches were part of the deal. Oh, the joys.
Being vegetarian, lunch times equated to hard times. If I wasn’t at the canteen within two minutes of the lunch bell ringing, there would be nothing left that I could eat, and on many occasions I had to skip lunch because of this. Sometimes I would ask if the sauce that accompanied the noodles had meat in it. “Oh, I don’t know,” was the usual response. I hated school lunches on the few occasions there was actually food left that I could eat, but for many kids, school lunches are their only option.
We’re always being told that we need to eat healthier, but how can we do that when pizzas, chicken burgers, chips, potato wedges, and paninis (covered in so much melted cheese that it’s actually hard to tell if there is bread involved) are on the menu all day, every day?
To be honest, the pizza was good, and the majority of people thought the food was okay. But if you’re eating the same food from this tiny, unhealthy menu five days a week… is that really a good thing?
In my lifetime there have been numerous national campaigns to make school lunches healthy, and apparently this has been resolved many times, but I can tell you from experience that there is nothing very healthy about school lunches, except a bowl of apples that nobody touches on sale next to the bacon rolls.
My old school used to have vending machines full of crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks, but they were long gone by the time I started going there. Schools have definitely become a lot healthier in the last ten years or so – just not healthy enough.
The cooks do the best they can with the money they’re given, and I know schools struggle to fund healthy meals. After all, healthy meals usually have way more ingredients than a slice of pizza does, and they take much longer to make. I think the problem is that schools just aren’t given enough money to get creative.
It’s great that school lunches, free or otherwise, exist at all. They save stressed parents a lot of time and money, and sometimes a school lunch is the only meal a kid is going to get that day.
So, when school meals are so important, why is the budget around £2 per child?
When was the last time you bought something good for lunch that came to that amount or less?