I will never forget the day when I popped into the local Spar for a loaf of bread. It was lunchtime, I was a new mum on maternity leave and I thought this would take a couple of minutes. It didn’t. It took FOREVER because I hadn’t factored in the deluge of kids from the local secondary school who had just descended en masse to buy their wedges and sausage rolls and crisps and pop and sweets for their lunch. I now know to avoid any of the shops at lunchtime! The fact that dinners are not provided in Irish schools was a shock to me (having been educated in England where a hot school meal in the middle of the day is considered a rite of passage). It still saddens me when I see the local school kids in my town stuffing their faces with takeaway rubbish and I often wonder if their parents know the truth about what their children actually spend their lunch money on. Surely they don't intend it to be spent on a giant can of coke and three packets of Tayto?
An interesting feature in the Irish Independent this week asks the question: should Irish schools be offering a meal at school, as our counterparts in the UK and on the Continent do? As the feature points out, ‘While Irish second-level pupils commonly make do on sausage rolls, crisps and fizzy drinks, hurriedly bought from local convenience stores, their French counterparts sit down to eat the sort of dinners that would not look out of place in a chi-chi bistro. A typical French school dinner might include an appetiser, salad, main course, cheese plate, and dessert. The meals are subsidised and cost the pupil's parents around €3 each.’ It seems to me that the French kids have it pretty good – and not only the kids. The parents can also send their child off to school knowing that they will get a healthy, nutritious meal during the day. Much better than fretting about how much sugar and how many calories they have consumed while they were out of your sight for a few hours.
Jamie Oliver’s campaigning to improve the nutritional value of school dinners both in the UK and the US has been well documented and reported in the media. It is hard to argue with his principles on the matter and perhaps the Irish system is long overdue a radical reform where school lunches are provided in a restaurant-style environment, rather than from a vending machine or from the local Spar. Although I suspect with spending cuts to Education being announced on an almost daily basis, the school’s responsibility for promoting health and nutritional well-being of our children will, sadly, be well down on the list of priorities.