When you look back on school dinner what do you remember? For me, it was delicious cornflake tart, sticky with syrup and sweet with jam, ladled with lashings of yellow custard (with skin and lumps if you were lucky!). I also recall spam fritters, which were dished up with scraps (of batter) on the side. The fritters were disgusting, the scraps were good.
When packed lunches became cool, I remember nagging my mum until she surrendered to let me take a lunch box to school. It was ace. Yummy sandwiches, twice a week a bag of crisps and, the summertime pièce de résistance that made me the envy of all my classmates, peas in their pods.
Then onto secondary school, where lunch suddenly became a bit more competitive and scary. Your lunch defined you. Cool kids would turn their nose up at sausages and chips as being babyish, instead going to the salad bar for healthy snacks. At the other end of the spectrum there was one boy who had chips for his lunch every day – I don’t think in the five years of secondary he was ever seen eating anything else. Then there was the ‘iccy van lunch’ – queuing for 20 minutes to spend our parents’ hard earned cash on pop, crisps and sweets from an ice cream van parked outside the gates – and presumably going into afternoon lessons fizzing on E numbers.
It’s all changed now of course. The ice cream van and the chips would be banned. As would the spam fritters I expect. No great loss really. But a recent demonstration of school dinners from across the world by US food company Sweetgreen shows just what we could have had. Tofu curry, pea soup, rice and beans and rare steak. It might be healthy and slightly glamorous, but it’s not the food memories are made of.