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  • Writer's pictureKemiALondoner

Hot Dinners

It's been a fairly un contentious week in the UK. For once there have been no changes to our liberties, for quite some time. Stay at home seems to be the only message. 1.5 thousand people are dying everyday in the UK. Various vaccines are being rolled out, at the same time, there are global virus is mutations. Those lucky people who have managed to leave the country have new quarantine rules, but as for me, I'm settling in(side) for the long haul. This is 2021 - and considering my demographic doesn't even register on the high priority list, and vaccines are not being produced quickly enough for administering, I can't see much change for me and my peers any time soon. The economists reckon it will take 5 years to recover from COVID- and there is also the EU exit new rules and trade deals that we need to digest alongside all of this.

With this all in mind, one would imagine that current government would be making similar plans to support those on a low, no income and families with children until at least December this year. But it appears that they will be surprised when councils run out of money due to demand on the services being higher than expected in November 2020.

The effect will be felt by the children, and of course, the free school meals and access to food will raise its head. Again.

It does feel like school food has optimised the governments and other politicians lack of understanding of poverty, what free school meals are, as well as nutrition. In my day they were called hot dinners. The poor kids had a hot dinner served at school, through the hatch by a dinner lady and the rich kids had a packed lunch which they brought in from home lovingly curated by their Vauxhall estate driving mother. The hot dinner crew had to line up with a tray and shuffle down the gang-line whilst food was piled unceremoniously on their plate with very little choice, whist packed lunches flounced over to their tables with a brightly colour box excited to see what delights were inside.

A hot dinner consisted of bland, over cooked peas, carrots and beans, unidentifiable meat, lumpy custard but normally with a swiss roll or ice cream dessert, which was the envy of the packed lunch gang. On Friday we always had fish and chips, but only every water to drink. Packed lunches afforded the option of crisps and chocolate, a sandwich with delicious exotic fillings and sugary cartons of juice. . Hot dinners could not leave the table until we had finished everything on our plate, but packed lunches would just leave whatever they didn't want or throw it away. We were made to sit on different tables which meant you couldn't sit with your friends and there was a clear economic line drawn. In addition we couldn't start 'playtime' until dessert had been served whereas packed lunches could leave whenever they wanted. Whilst I wouldn't have know what degrading meant at that age, there was definitely shame and stigma associated with lunchtimes.

In hindsight, nutritionally, hot dinners were probably more balanced and healthier for growing children. I'm not sure how long a ham sandwich and a packet of crisps will sustain a growing mind. Our hot dinners were not without controversy. I distinctly remember some parents, mine included, horrified at the over boiled lumpy state of lunch, taking over the jobs of the dinner ladies at the school and improving the quality of food for a term. This was pre-Jamie-Oliver - Our parents were trail blazers. The food was great. And I imagine they weren't the only ones. But then food was actually cooked in the school kitchen back then not made in a factory and reheated on site.

Its's been almost a year since school has effectively been 'out' and there has been debacle after debacle with regards to access to food for kids not at school. It's ranged from no provision over the holidays; apick up a lunch from school daily; teachers delivering to each home; only food for the most vulnerable decided locally,;a centralised voucher system that didn't work; ending of fruit and veg at school; supermarket vouchers that can only redeemed in certain stores with over a certain amount with a certain cash spend threshold and that Chartwells incident of poor food parcel delivery. They haven't worked.

It is exactly these experiences that makes me wonder why there are people that believe

parents, provided with the means to do so, would not choose to provide healthy food food their children. I've been advocating for cash over vouchers and parcels since i realised that this was an option. There are parts of the UK that already do it - England is behind as usual.

Cash for your pandemic home school lunch would provide all children with a suitable lunch and snacks that is are both nutritious and culturally suited to their needs. And in addition cash can be spent locally, keeping wealth within the local community and not whisked away into the pockets of the big supermarket brands.

And when we return to 'The good old days' I would suggest a total revamp of the system.

A school provided hot dinner should be standard for every child and packed lunches banned - nutritionally balanced, warm with no hierarchy of food. In addition parents should also be invited in once a year to eat with the kids so they understand what their kids are eating. Cooking should be brought back into schools so that children want to eat better and that pester power will do the rest.

Find out more about School food:

Covid School Lunch report 2020 from The Grocer

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