Scrutinising school meal standards – a role for parents or the government?

According to the Wee Man, every day at preschool he has biscuits and cake for lunch.

I know this not to be true. Firstly, because his teachers tell me it isn’t. Secondly, because I’ve seen the lunch menu and ‘biscuits and cake’ does not feature on it. And thirdly, because no matter how well he thinks he’s wiped his face, there’s often a bit of crusty bean juice or gravy left lurking somewhere.

Bubby D demonstrates the 'spaghetti smile'
Bubby D demonstrates the ‘spaghetti smile’

School meals have also apparently moved on a bit since I was the one partaking of them. Whilst I was one of those strange children who actually really liked the ‘meal of the day’ – various pies, mince-y things, stews and curries with fairly limp vegetables, followed by a ‘traditional’ pudding of some kind…crumble, mmm… – there were always piles and piles of chips, pizza and deep fried things on offer, accompanied by ludicrously coloured slush drinks. (I did eat those occasionally, if the meal of the day involved liver…bleurgh).

Yet there is still concern that school meals aren’t healthy enough – and that’s why the Children’s Food Trust was set up, to monitor the quality of school dinners and the number of pupils who are consuming them.

Except…now the Children’s Food Trust has lost its funding.

So, is this a bad decision? Many think it is, with the Guardian reporting that one expert states ‘‘there’s not really going to be any proper national monitoring of standards. We always say that it only takes a term or two for nutritional levels to slip but it can take years to get them back again”.

That might be true, but do we need national monitoring? I know that I as a parent am interested in what the Wee Man is eating*, and I know that I check that his ‘biscuits and cake’ is in fact a well balanced and nutritional meal myself. And if I wasn’t satisfied that the school were providing the food I expect them to, I’d be saying something to them about it myself. I don’t need a national service to do this for me.

While I realise that not all parents may have the same level of food knowledge as me (my own Mum was a domestic science teacher and I had food nutrition [literally] shoved down my throat from a very early age) I do think the vast majority of parents know what’s healthy and what’s not. And I also think quite a lot of them would be having words with the school too if they thought their children actually were getting biscuits and cake.

I’m not saying that losing the Children’s Food Trust isn’t a bad thing, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a great idea, and I do think it’s worth funding. But I also think that parents need to take some of the responsibility for making sure that their children are eating healthily too, and for understanding what healthy is. After all, school dinner is just one meal in the day – a healthy breakfast and tea are important as well.

*of course, putting the food in front of him doesn’t mean he is actually eating it. But then a national body couldn’t do anything about that either…

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