Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Pink rice pudding

So, let's all jump on the Jamie Oliver bandwagon and sort out school meals.

I have mixed feelings about this really. Not that I have anything about trying to improve childrens diets, but then I think back to what I ate at school and I'm not sure how much good it would have done.

At primary school I ate school dinners sometimes, and my abiding memory of them is the fact that I vowed never to eat pink rice pudding or soggy carrots again. I don't remember too much wholly unhealthy stuff being served, but I don't remember much with a great deal of taste either. Bland, bland, bland. Most of the time I brought a packed lunch in with me, and again it wasn't particularly unhealthy. But still, I was fat by the time I went to secondary school.

And there I went through probably the only period where my eating was really messed up. I didn't tend to take a packed lunch to school with me, I had lunch money for the first time in my life. But the thought of buying lunch in the canteen filled me with horror. I was never a popular kid, and I hated the whole pantomime of finding a table to sit on with people who might deign to speak to me. Sometimes I'd sit happily on my own, eating a slice of pizza (thinking back, this is when things started to get a little more unhealthy), but more often than not I wouldn't bother eating.

I didn't get pocket money for a while, so I'd save my lunch money to buy magazines and sweets on the way home. I'd buy a bar of chocolate from the sweet shop because it was cheaper and I could use the money for something else. I'd go all day without really eating anything with any nutritional value. As I got older and I was allowed off site at lunchtime I started getting more into the trips to the chip shop for a battered sausage, or trips to the local shop for sweets. Not every day, but when I did eat, it was never the stuff that was offered on site.

When I moved school for sixth form I don't remember eating in the school canteen more than about three times in 18 months. In fact I don't remember eating very much at all during the day. Partly from a vague thought that I might lose weight, or at least not gain it, but probably for other reasons that I can't even remember now.

The quality of school meals wouldn't have done a thing for me. At worst, badly cooked healthy food might have put me off eating veg for life. At best I might have been tempted into the canteen, but I'd have still been the unpopular fat kid who didn't have anyone else to sit with, no matter how nice the food. And I'd probably still have drifted through school with hardly a morsel of food passing my lips on school premises.

It's a start, and I'm not going to knock anything that leads to better food being available in schools. But I really don't think that it's the whole picture, and could end up being something that's for show rather than something that has a lasting impact. I do hope I'm wrong on that though.


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