Thursday, 21 March 2013

School dinners and cooking healthy

For some time now the news has been full of things about healthy eating in general and specifically school dinners. I’ve viewed this whole discussion with a certain level of interest, but it’s been something well...over there. You know, the place where things go when they are nothing to do with you, and are not sufficiently important to you right now to warrant your limited time or attention.

In the last 5 months however things have significantly changed. Ellie is, as previous readers of my blog will know, now in school and she has school dinners. My interest in the whole school lunch debate has therefore somewhat peaked. In addition, Ellie has very clearly decided she doesn’t like vegetables, any apparently except cucumber! So I’ve found myself regularly putting on my private investigator mummy hat to find out more about what Ellie’s eaten each day at school, how much she’s eaten and so on. Today however, I was finally going to get an insight as I went back to school and I joined Ellie for her Easter school dinner.  

Within a couple of minutes of arriving I saw Ellie’s class walking over and child by child ran to greet their family member. Ellie waved frantically from a distance and then grabbed my hand when she was close, shouting ‘come on then’ and literally dragging me into the dinner hall. Ellie next showed me where to hang my coat and then where to queue for our food. She was clearly enjoying showing me the ropes and I have to admit a sense of pride watching my little girl who was uber confident and chatty with her friends. 

My plate was gradually filled with my chosen lamb, roast potato, mashed potato, sprouts, sweet corn and carrots. Once I’d squeezed myself and my plate onto the teeny table and chair, I saw there were jugs of water and plates of fresh bread laid out as well. The meal itself was quite honestly lovely – both in the fact that I shared it with Ellie and in that the food tasted just great. In all too quick a time lunch was over and, with a kiss and wave, I was watching Ellie run off into the playground to play with her friends.

What I did note though was that Ellie's keenness to show me the ropes didn't extend to what she ate. Ellie only got meat, mash and sweet corn for her plate and then announced she'd finished with 99% of her sweet corn still on her plate. It was neither the time nor the place so i let it go and instead congratulated myself on my patience and relaxed attitude. Bravo to me for holding back on the nagging.

What I’ve learned from today is that I’m in no doubt that the school lunch was actually pretty damn good. I’m also acutely aware that Ellie isn’t a great lover of vegetables and whilst I don’t need to panic, I probably should do something to encourage her since she doesn’t seem to eat them anywhere anymore.

It is a happy coincidence then that this morning I just happened to be listening to the radio. I heard Henry Dimbleby on Woman’s Hour on radio 4 talking about getting children to cook healthy and the competition called ‘Cook 5’. It's designed to encourage children across the UK to learn to cook 5 savoury dishes before the age of 16. There are some lovely prizes to be won by individual children and a prize for the school that encourages the most children to cook 5 dishes.

Now I think Ellie is, at almost 5, a little younger than the target audience for the competition, but today’s events in their entirety have got me thinking. First, we do cook at home together but it’s almost always cakes and sweet stuff and I always do the majority of the key bits. Second, Ellie is actually growing up fast and showed me her confidence and competence in many ways today at school. Third, whilst she may be a bit young for the competition there is no reason why we can’t join in (in our own way) and so I’ve hatched a plan.

I’m going to make some of the Cook 5 savoury recipes with Ellie and I’m going to try to get Ellie to do more of the work than I do. It won’t happen on a working day as there simply isn’t time, but the next free weekend we have we’re going to start. I will of course let you know how we get on and in the meantime, do let me know about your cooking and healthy eating successes. I'd also totally recommend that you have a look at the Cook 5 website and go on...why not have a go?

As always please do get in touch either via the comments below, or @sharonmsmyth I really do love to hear from you. 


  1. Thanks Great Post. I look forward to your Cook 5 savoury recipes

  2. Thanks Shane. :-)
    Sadly my success rate is currently quite low in terms of cooking with Ellie but I'm working on it. The vegetables we're growing in the garden have peaked her interest in trying some things she wouldn't normally eat though so I shall update on progress soon!
    Thanks for popping by to read.