All of us, over a certain age, will remember the crusade Jamie Oliver undertook to promote healthy school dinners. When he began his mission, I admit, I didn't watch the programs, it was either before I had children, or when my children were young enough that I wasn't thinking about school. However, I certainly remember the hype. He visited schools all over the country to investigate what our kids were eating for lunch, and in turn offering simple, inexpensive ideas to turn these meals into more nutritious, filling, and hearty options. A great idea, and from what I could gather, it seemed a success.
My eldest started school a year ago and I have to admit it's only now that I have given school dinners any thought. For the first year she adored the idea of carrying her lunchbox to school. I supplied her with hand drawn illustrations to brighten up her day, and cut her sandwiches into love hearts. But peer pressure got to her and over the summer she announced she wanted to be like her best friend and partake in school dinners. I didn't have a problem with it, in fact, I embraced the decision. No more standing around the kitchen at 9 pm hand shaping sandwiches and carving carrot sticks. After all, the school proudly displayed the 'healthy schools' emblem at the bottom of each newsletter- so I was sure she would be receiving a nutritious treat!
I was wrong. Three weeks into the school term and I am regretting my decision. In fact I am now on the verge of reversing my decision altogether. On our walk home from school we discuss her day and this includes what she had for lunch. Pizza, burgers, battered fish not to mention cake. Oh the cake! She tells me about the cake with such enthusiasm, her eyes sparkling with delight at the sticky toffee pudding and custard. She started back at school on the Monday, by Thursday she didn't feel well.
'Mummy, my tummy really hurt in PE today'
'What did you have for lunch?'
'Cake and cream.'
Not just any cream, squirty, horrible overly processed cream. And it was her forth day of cake and cream in a row.
I am fully aware how this food related rant sounds. My husband himself has told me to chill out and let her enjoy it. I too remember school dinners fondly, artic roll and pink custard, a 1990s delicacy! I wonder if I should just chill out? After all- if I could get away with cake everyday I so would! But then I rethink. My school dinners were amazing, but at the age of four I was taking a pill every lunchtime for my tummy aches. At 19 I was having tests to be palmed off with the IBS prognosis and by 28 I was diagnosed with debilitating Ulcerative Colitis. Could there be a link with my sugar filled youth?
I have always felt myself lucky to have two children void of the worries of food allergies. We eat a healthy, well balanced diet at home, very little processed sugar, usually just a treat or two at the weekends, limited dairy and certainly nothing heavily processed. I don't believe they feel like they are missing out, I make sugar free banana breads and treats so they feel they get some cake, we have pancakes every Sunday and they adore the fantastic range of yoyo bears and Nakd bars on offer. At least they never felt like they were missing out before, until my five year old entered a world where cake is on offer daily, what five year old could deny themselves that?
Three weeks in and she has complained of tummy aches at least three times a week, i am no nutritionalist but in my mind there is certainly a link. In a world where obesity is prevalent, where chronic illnesses are diagnosed daily in young people as well as old. I wonder if Mr Oliver has considered a revisit, as I don't think this problem is even close to being solved.