Do you miss your packed lunch?
As news came over the kitchen radio this morning of the proposed ban on unhealthy packed lunches I was reading the riot act to my kids, skulking in with festering lunchboxes from the day before, complete with sweaty uneaten fruit and mouldering crusts. The dog climbed into the dishwasher as I cobbled together two packed lunches from slim pickings in my fridge. Cue lots of shouting about food waste and extra work for Mum. And it wasn't even 7am.
On the face of it, the recommendations in Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby's School Food Plan should be music to the ears of millions of parents who, like me, face the daily challenge of packing a school lunch that is not only nutritious but one the kids will actually want to eat. And yet, I think banning packed lunches is a terrible idea (and I'm not alone).
Don't get me wrong. I don't send my kids off with a nutritionally perfect spread each morning but I make a do make a stab at it: a granary sandwich, fruit and a biscuit if there's one to hand. Yesterday was not bountiful – a carrot sandwich – but sometimes if my inner Domestic Goddess is up and around they'll have some leftover pasta from dinner the night before or some soup in a Thermos.
If I feel like punishing myself, I read an hilarious blog called Amanda's School Lunch written by a former food editor. This week: dill and garlic scapes on artisan challah with some salmon and cream cheese! Oh, and fresh cherries.
No, most children's lunchboxes don't contain this kind of ludicrously artisan offering, thank God. In fact, there are some real horror stories out there – many children are coming to school with cold chips and chocolate bars and this certainly needs tackling.
But still, there's an opportunity in the lunchbox that it would be a shame to lose. My kids, aged nine and 12, often help make their own packed lunches. It's an excellent way for them to help me out during the morning mayhem and in the process they learn important lessons about preparing food and – dare I say it – nutrition. Actually, they relish doing it and enjoy making decisions about what they eat during the day.
That's what I did when I was a kid. I could devise my own concoctions: tinned salmon and pickle sandwiches were my favourite and I clearly remember the feeling of pride in this invention. They were wrapped in clingfilm, thrown into a brown paper bag with whatever the fruit bowl had going that day and hopefully survived the school-bag crush until lunchtime. Boy, was I jealous of the kids with matching Doctor Who lunchbox and drink-bottle sets that kept their sandwiches unsquished and their drinks cool.
Peering into others kids' lunchboxes offered an insight into the world of food beyond the narrow confines of our own larder. Roseanna, whose Italian parents ran the local corner shop, brought salami sandwiches every day, which I regarded as totally exotic and cool (although she did get stick for having a stinky lunch). Voula, my Lebanese friend, had sandwiches made from flatbread, the strangest and most wonderful thing I had ever seen. Forty years on and I still remember their names and what they brought for lunch. That's packed lunches for you – food evokes some powerful emotion. What are your favourite packed-lunch memories?
By Sue Quinn