Once again the powers that be have marched into the dining hall. This time it’s to suggest that packed lunches should be banned in the interests of improving the health of our youngsters – half of whom are obese by the time they leave primary school. Of course they have a point. Kids who eat nutritionally bankrupt rubbish will end up fat and unhealthy. They will cost the NHS lots of money and not contribute terribly well to society or the economy. The recently published School Food Plan – taking up where Jamie Oliver and his anti turkey twizzler campaign left off – makes lots of good points. Obviously healthy food is better for growing children and school dinners make more economic sense when more people take them. We get that. We also get that some people fill their offspring’s’ lunchboxes with crisps, chocolate, fizzy pop and other tasty but evil foodstuffs. This doesn’t make them bad parents… no, this probably makes them exasperated parents who simply want to send things to school their children will consume. Anyone who’s lovingly packed a nutritious and tempting midday meal for their little one only to have it come home squashed, battered and largely uneaten at the end of the day will recognise the frustration. The theory is all very well, but all the healthy, whole, brown, fresh stuff in the world is no earthly use if the little treasures simply won’t eat them. Yes, yes, we too are tired of trying to convince ourselves that they’ll eat if they’re hungry enough. The fact is, the dietary landscape of today requires a totally different form of navigation to that which most of today’s parents grew up with. We – perhaps because our parents lived in the shadow of rationing – cleared our plates and ate what we were given without complaint. Maybe an occasional fish finger was served as a treat but there certainly wasn’t a mini-meal or a kids’ menu as a matter of course. Baby food, even, was grown-up food mashed lump free. And that’s the thing. Our children have so much choice over what they eat, they are bombarded by messages about what new and tasty things to eat – a whole industry of junior food is working terribly hard to make it so. Teddy-bear shaped processed ham with a side order of bland mini-cheese anyone? Children’s taste buds aren’t actually significantly different to adults’. They can handle the big flavours as well as anyone. Try a Monster Munch if you don’t believe me. They – and we – have lost the sense that meat and two veg (possibly with gravy) is an acceptable thing to feed children. Instead they only want homogonous, beige, crumb covered pap preferably with ketchup and a side serving of entertaining novelty. Banning children’s packed lunches sounded like strong punch from Nanny State, but I’m proposing something much more radical. Let’s have a campaign against all children’s food – from happy meals onwards. Instead, let’s just have everyone eating food – proper, tasty, fresh affordable food. Throw whatever money is necessary at it. Educate, subsidise and even legislate against the turkey dinosaur. We don’t need a School Food Plan, we need a Food Plan where everyone understands, enjoys and – most importantly – has access to real food.
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