Wednesday, 2 May 2012

School dinners or packed lunch?

I have two school age children and since they have started school, we have done a mixture of school dinners and packed lunch. During the depths of a Scottish winter I like to think they've had something hot, freshly cooked and nutritious to see them through the afternoon, and as the menus are sent home, I can look through to see what's on offer.

This week for example the kids are being offered chicken curry with rice or hot dog on Monday, mince pie with mash or tomato pasta on Tuesday, pork loin with wedges or pizza on Wednesday, roast chicken or beans on toast on Thursday and fish and chips or chicken grill on Friday. So far so nutritious.

Just before Easter however we had a letter home informing us that the cost of a school lunch would be going up to £1.90 with immediate effect. A quick survey among my Facebook friends showed that this figure was towards the lower end of average, with most people paying over £2 for their school lunches. So is this value for money?

I don't think it is. My 6 year old adores pizza and begs every Wednesday to have a school lunch. However, for my £1.90 she gets two tiny slices of pizza straight from the freezer into the oven, a carton of milk, slice of bread and some fruit salad or a yoghurt. No wonder when she does money lunch she comes home starving. I understand about overheads and costs, but this is seriously poor value for money. Two children in school having school lunch every day would cost me £19 per week, and I doubt if I spend a third of that on providing a packed lunch.

Portion size was also highlighted recently by the blog of a 9 year old, Martha Payne, who started uploading pictures of what she was offered at lunchtime. Martha lives in the next door county to me, and what she is offered is indicative of what Scottish schools are dishing up to kids. My kids don't get offered seconds either. The publicity created by Martha's blog has shown that things really haven't moved on since the Jamie Oliver campaign demonised the Turkey Twizzler.

Is it really too much to expect that our kids have access to a well-cooked, healthy and value for money lunch at school?


  1. Hi
    I am a Chef in a Private school. I too was applaed by the standard of food served at Martha's School ( Neverseconds). So i was inspired to do a brief blog my self of what i serve the kids at my school.

    The Children at my school are all of Primary age. The Parents pay per Term for their food. we have only 4 pack lunches which are only because of special dietary requirements.
    The Children get 3 Courses plus Fresh Fruit & Home Made Yoghurt is available Daily.
    I don't know what the parents pay term, per day, per child but i know i get £1.44 to spend on food per child, per day.
    i believe but don't quote me, that most state school have about 85p to 97p to spend per child. Anything over this is for over heads.
    I have 3 Daughter, 1 at Secondary school, 1 at Primary school the other due to start nursery sept 2013. The eldest at Secondary school has lunch from the Canteen as it is run by a Chef and have met him and seen what is on offer (she tends to have a lot of Pasta as she likes this).
    I dont allow the other daughter at primary school to have hot dinners as when i went for a sampling evening, the food was not great and when i asked them a few probing questions & said who i work for they wobbled a bit and got a bit flustered.
    i think the key thing is that most state schools have Dinner ladies / cooks running them, and have done for many years. They need training and help in changing their ways and cooking methods and also to have support from above to advise them in new trends etc. but as the old saying goes "you cant teach an old dog new tricks". Well i think you can if the people above stick with and go about it the right way with proper training and support.

  2. It's shocking that less than half of what we parents send to school covers the actual ingredients, and we all know that less than a quid per child doesn't go far these days.

    I have a friend who lives in France and over there school dinners are fantastic. There's no choice, and the whole school sits together to eat at lunchtime, staff and kids alike. They get a proper three course lunch every day, menus adjusted to take into account what's in season and not a chicken nugget in sight.

    If that was the sort of thing on offer in Scotland I'd gladly pay £2 or even more - but the sort of stuff on offer at the moment is so poor quality.