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Saturday December 8, 2012

Food Glorious Food: do international school dinners cut the mustard?


As a self confessed gourmand who looks forward to Christmas with the fervour of a pig on the scent of a black perigord truffle, I was dismayed to hear from an eloquent young reader studying in Spain that food served at her international school was hard to stomach.

I shall spare the blushes of the school in question but suffice to say that my student spy informed me that the food was dire and of no nutritional value. It got me thinking about the school dinners that used to be served up at my Catholic primary school. They were reliably revolting with the grimmest dish being lukewarm semolina daubed with a garish red and flavourless blob of jam. We also had free milk in those days and even though I had a severe intolerance to lactose, was forced to drink it until one day I was violently sick all over my teacher’s shoes. Retribution swiftly followed. I was caned on the hand and days later my parents had a visit from the teacher who advised them to discipline me severely.

So, back to school dinners. My son’s international school in Palma lacked a dining room so all children were encouraged to bring packed lunches and those unable to do so were provided with rather dubious looking fare that was ferried into the school by a catering agency. At his Spanish school a good hot meal was provided at lunchtime but it wasn’t cheap and included puré, an unpleasant soupy affair that the children loathed. My son became a past master at pouring it into a paper cup under the dining room table and concealing it with his jacket until able to hurl it into the nearest bin.

However, here in rural Majorca, I have been pleasantly surprised, shocked even, at the length some primary schools go to in order to make sure that their wards have fresh and delicious fare. In Fornalutx village school the cook actually goes to the market to choose fresh vegetables and fruit and the catch of the day, later lovingly prepared for the youngsters’ lunch. The smells wafting from the kitchen are so good that I’ve often been tempted to gatecrash.

But back to my student spy. I advised her to discuss the matter with her teacher and principal in a constructive manner and to garner support from other students. After all when nine-year-old Martha Payne from Scotland began blogging about the terrible grub served at her school, the local council tried to ban it to no avail. The blog, Neverseconds, became a cause célèbre, raising thousands for a charity and turning young Martha into an international Joan of Arc. I can only imagine that school dinners at her school are now Michelin star quality.

Of course chef Jamie Oliver has been campaigning vociferously to highlight the inadequacies of food served in British schools. Perhaps my student spy can persuade him to take up the cudgels on her behalf and to turn his attention to international schools in Spain.





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  1. I remember my school dinners only too well – ugh! Mushy peas, custard with a skin you’d need a saw to get through and tapioca we all swore moved and was probably tadpoles from the pond on Putney Heath!!

    As for the milk, which came in little bottles with a straw you had to push through the foil lid (that invariably splashed the stuff all over your face when it popped) I too was forced to drink it and have detested milk intensely to this very day as a result :)

    Bravo to Fornalutx village school cook and good for Martha! AFter all, if we want our children to grow up with well-nourished brains rather than end up like our politicians (!!), the school canteen definitely has a huge responsibility in that department!

    * by Sarah | Dec 8, 07:31 PM