Friday, 22 June 2012

Martha and the war against school dinners

School dinners hey. Who can remember those roast dinner days where you had a slither of meat that looked like a piece of processed mush, smelled like dog food and tasted like plastic? Or those delicious yet disgustingly made turkey twizzlers?

To be honest, school dinners were never that bad. And before Jamie Oliver came in and offered healthy alternatives for twice the price, they were something to look forward to. I remember the long line of hungry kids in primary school queueing up for the day’s special, or the choir of voices as the cook came out with seconds.

School dinners are just as integral to our education system as those cold days playing football in the rain or forgetting your lines in the nativity play. Everyone child across the country at some point will experience a school dinner.

But just what constitutes a school dinner nowadays? Last week, I was fascinated by the plight of one school girl from Scotland, 9 year old Martha Payne, who has set up a blog showing startling pictures of her school dinners from her primary school, or rather lack of dinner.

The pictures she has posted show ominous amounts of food that, if I was eating, would probably last a few mouth fulls. One days meal constituted of a burger, with melted cheese, in a bun with two potato croquettes and three slices of cucumber, with a ‘rocket’ lolly for dessert. Not only does this strike me as such a small amount for a growing child, but it’s hardly healthy either.

Her blog, NeverSeconds, has raked up an impressive six million hits and growing, and has support from newspapers and even Jamie Oliver himself (the man that I thought most school children despised!) Despite causing controversy among her teachers and the local council, her campaign is very impressive and definitely strikes a chord with the nation, with many other disgruntled schoolchildren across the country (and even the worldwide) uploading their pictures of puny portions.

So despite an original ban implemented by her teachers and the council, Martha’s story has garnered huge support and the ban has now been lifted. However, it alarms me that despite the criticism of school meals, the government have started to tamper with school meals and food provision. Already a consultation is running into stopping the funding for free milk for young children and nursery schools. There have also been widespread calls for breakfasts to be introduced to children that get free school meals, which I expect the government will turn down also.

It’s a shame, because I remember having fond memories of free breakfasts in primary school during my Sats tests. Not only was it reassuring and calming to have breakfast before sitting exams, but it also ensured I was given a nice, healthy breakfast. Kids nowadays, particularly those at secondary school, miss out on breakfast - so free breakfasts would enable kids to eat healthily. And surely having a healthy breakfast means kids will respond better in lessons too?

Jamie Oliver might have changed the face of school dinners, but he hasn’t really saved them. If school dinners are going to survive, the government needs to stop talking to the experts and start listening to the kids and parents. After all, they’re the ones that know best.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia/ Neverseconds blog

Martha is helping raise money for Mary's Meals, a charity that works with local volunteers to supply school meals to local children and communities. You can find out more here.

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