School dinners: has it all gone wrong?

When I was a child in the 1980s, it was compulsory to hate school food. But when I look back, I wonder what we were complaining about, because it was pretty amazing: huge portions of comfort food with a wide selection of fruit and veg, topped off by the sort of puddings that dreams are made of.  Tes reports

I started to work in schools about 15 years ago and hadn’t expected school meals to have changed. Sadly, they had. It was the height of the processed school food trend and Jamie Oliver had yet to charge in, spatulas blazing, and cast out Turkey Twizzlers in favour of fresh, nutritious food. I’d been shocked at the rubbish that pupils were eating and so welcomed that change with open arms.

Since then, the most prominent change to have been made to school meals is that all children in Reception and key stage 1 are entitled to eat for free. This is a wonderful initiative which ensures all children have access to a hot meal every day and should mean that our pupils are able to concentrate better in the afternoons on a full stomach.

But is it working? Not as well as we’d hoped, say various parents and teachers.

The kids don’t like the food

Those Turkey Twizzlers and spaghetti hoops looked disgusting to me, but I have to admit that I’ve never seen so many clean plates in the dining hall as I did back then. The current school meals may be healthy, but that’s no good if the kids won’t eat them:

“Our area do an amazing and varied menu, exploring world foods and themes…which my kids hate,” says one parent from Birmingham, who wishes to remain anonymous. “Just last week I had to collect my sleeping five-year-old at 2.30 in the afternoon because she was exhausted, having eaten nothing during the day.”

Overzealous lunchtime staff

“My son asked for sausage but the midday supervisor gave him chicken instead,” complains a parent from Hampshire. “He doesn’t like chicken so wouldn’t eat it, and she wouldn’t let him go out to play until he did. Stalemate.”

This is the opposite problem of the above: forcing children to eat food that they genuinely dislike. This can lead to resentment and possibly even lifelong issues with food. 

Running out of food

Another issue is the kitchen running out of the most popular menu choices. “My daughter’s school regularly runs out of food by the time Year 6 get served,” says one angry parent from Worcestershire. “We pay for school meals but there’s nothing left for them! It’s a joke!”

Read about dining hall problems School dinners: has it all gone wrong?

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Budgets, Health, Infant, Parenting, Pre-school, Primary and Secondary.


  1. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, my experience was the profit played a part on deciding what should be on the menu. As a head of site for a lower school, I discussed with the kitchen manager if we could encourage healthier eating. We decided that one day a week we would take pizza and chips off the menu. The kitchen staff got into the mood and would dress up in the national dress of the featured meal. The pupils enjoyed it. I got a phone call from Westminster City Council (the schools was, at that time, a community school) ordering me to stop the experiment. The reason given was that the catering company had complained that their profits were lower (note, they were still making a profit). Yet another way in which privatisation of public services provides a worse service?

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