Say whatever you like about school dinners, it does seem that our government has a lot of optimism on the subject.
It is argued that gone are the days of poor food, terrible value for money and turkey twizzlers (the latter is definitely true – they were actually banned a few years ago) and in its place we see a healthy way forward for schoolchildren.
The government is so sure that this is the way forward that, starting in September, all Infant School children (Reception and Years 1 and 2) in state-funded schools will be able to get their hands on a free school lunch. This will be a full meal provided for them by the school completely without charge.
It’s not compulsory for schoolchildren, though it appears as though such a scheme will be actively encouraged by the government and schools – though perhaps some schools are less keen than others to take this on. The government is claiming that it will save parents around £400 per child per year, which doesn’t sound like much of a bad thing.
Ultimately, I guess it comes down to whether or not you believe everything your government tells you. Is this a way of the government taking something else out of parent’s hands? Perhaps they don’t quite trust parents enough to make their own decisions on what their kids should eat.
I don’t know, maybe I should be less cynical. It’s no secret that school meals are made on a budget – you could argue that it’s done cheaper in the canteen than it is in the home kitchen so maybe this is a genuine move to help parents save some money. Of course, there’s the added motivation in that it helps the government with their merciless healthy schools programme, which is designed to effectively stop kids from being obese, thanks to eating the wrong things (somehow the government never manages to criticise sports and PE lessons in schools, but you know, each to their own.)
The plans to start in September are being met with a sense of caution. A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg assured us all that it would be ready to go, stating it was “fully tested, well designed and properly funded.” However, Conservative MP Graham Stuart – which is also the chairman of the education select committee – isn’t so sure. He’s argued that some schools will struggle to comply with the changes and they should be given some ‘discretion’.
Of course, it goes without saying that you can’t really have some schools providing it and some schools not. Schools who couldn’t afford to would be disadvantaging their pupils, which ultimately then turns the simple matter of school dinners into a political problem, as Local Education Authorities get themselves under pressure to perform and re-prioritise.
Perhaps the biggest question though is if the government is trying to genuinely help or if it’s just interfering with parent’s choices. I mean, there are two very distinct theories behind this idea…
Leave us to it!
Let’s be honest here, parents know what their kids are like. Are they fussy eaters? Do they have any allergies that they need to be cautious of? All of this has to be taken into account and this isn’t something that a school canteen will likely be good at. Canteens have to cater to large groups of people and managing to cater for every need isn’t going to be easy.
At least parents know what the right and wrong thing for their individual child is – regardless if you consider it fussy or whatever else you think of kid’s eating habits nowadays. Should parents be trusted? Well, this side of the argument says that they should, arguing that it doesn’t really matter either way. If they have got a view on what they should feed their kids (or indeed, allow their kids to help pick) then let them go for it!
This might actually work…
Sometimes, however, it is apparent that it doesn’t work. An all manner of things turn up in kid’s lunchboxes these days, some of them aren’t quite as healthy as the government tells us they should be.
Of course, this isn’t about if parents are making the right decisions really, this is more down to the fact that the meals are being offered without being made compulsory. It’s there as entirely optional and the claim is that it could save parents an awful lot of money each year in costs – without thinking about some of their taxes that will contribute to the scheme…
But still, it gives parents the option of a school providing a healthy meal to their kids at no expense to themselves, certainly for the first few years of their education. It might help to reinforce some good habits and encourage a more varied diet – certainly my days of cooking anything and everything at university probably came from my interest in food at school.
So is it going to work? Well, I hope so. Certainly it introduces children to a potentially exciting variety of food and it makes for the end of fussy eaters and the like. It’s not compulsory, so at least if there are some parents out there who don’t like it, they have no need to sign up to the scheme.
For those who do, it does represent a small risk in what schools prepare for their children, but I think after the issue has hit the headlines numerous times over the years, I can’t see a return to some of the less-wonderful creations from my days.
I’m all for this – go for it.