Imagine this scenario. An entirely fictional scenario, of course. Say, for example, there are 6 children living with a parent who’s not overly bothered about their wellbeing.
|Imagine living in a house where a tray of
nachos & cheese was a suitable lunch for seven people.
The children take it in turns to make the packed lunches each evening.
The older children get two slices of bread, the younger children get one.
Large blocks of ham are bought because they are cheapest, and one of the older children cuts this into slices for sandwiches. There are no sharp knives though, and the older children are impatient – so the ham is mostly cut into lumps.
Often the bread has been left in an open bag overnight, because one of the younger ones helped themselves to a chocolate spread sandwich before bed last night.
Sometimes there’s no margarine in the fridge.
So the children have lumps of ham in dry, stale bread. These go straight into a lunch bag, or are perhaps wrapped in a carrier bag.
With this, each child takes a packet of crisps, and a chocolate cereal bar. Except the chocolate cereal bars have all been eaten within 2 days of the shopping being done, so by Wednesday it’s just a sandwich and some crisps. Unless they’ve run out of crisps as well.
Occasionally, if there are oranges in the house, each child may take an orange with them.
When the children come home, they take it in turns to cook dinner. It is invariably a bag of frozen chicken breasts thrown into a pan with a jar of whichever sauce is to hand, and some rice. Sometimes some frozen vegetables are chucked in as well, but only if someone remembers to find it in the freezer.
This is the same, every day. On weekends, their lunch is Tesco Value instant noodles.
For snacks they have chocolate spread sandwiches.
On shopping day there are oranges, apples and bananas in the house – but only for a couple of days.
Meanwhile, the parent eats Chinese take away at least once a week, drinks alcohol freely, buys snacks whilst out and about.
Occasionally the parent does the cooking, and on those days they will have Thai green chicken curry for tea, or perhaps a roast.
These children are not eating badly because of a lack of money, or a lack of education or ability to cook. It’s a lack of care. An attitude of “that’ll do.” It’s the same reason they don’t have a bed time, and are routinely kept up to 10pm and gone to finish their chores or run errands.
There are children out there who don’t know what a pineapple looks like, who can only identify apples, oranges and bananas because they never see any other fruit.
For these children – who are, of course, entirely fictional – compulsory school meals would mean a chance of a properly balanced meal, maybe some fresh fruit and vegetables. Maybe broadening their horizons from the dull repetition of their daily diet, which varies only when they run out of something and have to go to a different shop to buy a replacement.
I can understand why the parent blogging community disagrees with the report. The sort of parent who blogs about their children’s lives is not the sort who would leave them to their own devices to throw a sandwich together at 10pm. And I’m fairly sure no school kitchen on earth could compete with Pippa at A Mother’s Ramblings; I am jealous of her children and their lunches on a regular basis.
But it’s a depressing fact that there are thousands of children out there like the ones I’ve written about here. Kids whose parents are too busy drinking or taking drugs or playing bingo or watching Coronation Street to ever be bothered enough to put together a packed lunch. Kids who end up bringing chocolate spread sandwiches in a carrier bag as their packed lunch. Kids who don’t even get a bottle of water on a hot day.
For these kids, the recommendations in that report would make a world of difference.
Yes, it’s insulting for everyone else, and I completely understand everyone’s point on this – but there are people out there who really are not doing a good job at feeding their children properly. This will be affecting the children’s behaviour, concentration, and general performance in lessons. They shouldn’t disadvantaged because of something as simple as food.
I don’t know what the answer is on this one. It’s not likely that the government would succeed in banning packed lunches and forcing all children to have school meals. But I really feel that they need to do something to help the ones who really do need it.