Saturday 9 June 2012

School dinners - Then and Now

THEN ( This colour represents my rose tinted glasses that I am wearing whilst writing this post. )

At Primary School my 'school dinners' relationship started on the very first day when I came home and reported that we'd had big black stones and custard. I now know of course these to be prunes! My mum told me that I'd eaten the custard and left the stones! I think that would still apply today!

Throughout school I recall a mixture of having school dinners, coming home for lunch and taking a packed lunch.

I work at the same school that I attended and whilst the hall is EXACTLY the same, bar for the new floor replaced only three years ago, the kitchen has been slightly modernised so our meals are now made on the premises. NONE of the children go home for lunch and most eat a packed lunch from home.

When I was there, as a patron of this fine dining restaurant, the meals were delivered from a central canteen and placed in warming ovens till service.  I also remember the pig swill wagon coming to collect ALL the waste food.

The waste is just bagged up into black bags and placed out for general rubbish collection. I find this incredible that a) it isn't sorted into raw veg peelings etc for compost and b) Our council does have a food waste collection recycling service now - so why not include our school?

We always had a main and a pudding and free access to jugs of water. We had tiny little GLASS glasses and we ate off white bone china ( it's what I was told at the time by a dinnerlady! ) and solid silver cutlery!( the same dinnerlady. ) I don't recall anyone smashing things or being cut to ribbons by the sharp cutlery.

The children have brightly coloured plastic all in one trays - which I HATE. They have matching brightly coloured  BLUNT chunky plastic knives and forks and spoons - which are no use for the fine motor skills required to cut and eat elegantly and little plastic beakers, again made from brightly coloured plastic. The dinnerladies  Lunchtime Organisers now serve the drinks at the same time as the children collect their meals and the little cup is balanced on the specially moulded tray. Extra drinks are served to them. They do not have free access to water as we did. Also the brightly coloured plastic makes drinks look weird and unappetising.

 The mains were less memorable I suppose. I think we had what we were given! No choices. I HATED fish days. Hideously watery yellow fish rectangles served with an ice cream scoop of smash. ( It probably was real potato but hours of keeping it warm transformed the taste and texture into thick gloopy stodge.  I remember my friend and I used to either spread the food really thinly round the 
plate or hide it under our knife and fork. We went to collect our pudding after we'd been cleared to remove our plates and scrape it into the big trough ourselves. We had to wait to leave the table until our plates had been inspected! The dinner hall was also patrolled by the Headmaster, who paced around with his hands behind his back reminding us not to speak with our mouths full, not to shout  and not to point. EVER.  He let us know which one of us he was speaking to shouting at by pointing at us. We were also allowed to go for seconds! It also caused great excitement  on the rare occasions when we had milkshakes! Green or Purple milk went down a storm!

In a similar system to the one demonstrated at the fantastic BLOG by Veg at Never seconds ; every day, the children at my school now get a daily choice and are given cards to present so they never ever have to have what's left. The school operates on a three weekly menu very similar to the one pictured here -

Image from Google image search

 with each day having four choices. Always a meat dish, a vegetarian option, jacket potatoes available daily with a choice of fillings and the option of a school packed lunch. Thursday is a popular day with my current base class as it's roast dinner day! they sure love their roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings! It's good because parents can just pay on the day too - no advance ordering. Salad and bread is available freely. Fresh fruit is always an option as an extra to dessert. Portion sizes are a bit stingy I think ( even though we are tackling childhood obesity these days ) and there are never calls for leftovers too be distributed as seconds as each meal is ordered. The card system works very well and rarely is there an occasion where a child cannot have the meal they ordered. They are also allowed milk as a drink choice every day. Plain milk - not green or purple! Not a food colouring in sight.

I don't think I had a favourite main meal. I recall we had pilchard pie which I think I liked. The meat and potato pie was made with horrid grey gristle. This was the 70s remember. Times was hard and we were second class citizens! ( Quite rightly so!! ); there was the horrid fish dish, chips - when we had them were soggy, but we could put vinegar on - out of real  cut  crystal glass vinegar decanters ( That dinner lady was very posh! ) My very very VERY  VERY favourite was chicken supreme. That was delicious.

The children seem to love the roast dinners the best, closely followed by crunchy chicken wraps and the curries. Puddings  desserts tend to be healthy fruit based yogurts and muffins. Not a great deal of choice really compared to what we had.

The puddings. I think I put up with the mains ( except the Supreme ) just to get to the puddings. We had: great thick cuboids of chocolate sponge served with pale green mint custard, great thick cuboids of vanilla sponge served with chocolate custard. I liked those. On the dislike list was the HUGE dishes of semolina with a blob of jam in the middle. YUK. School rice pudding was awful too. The big black stones were to be avoided also. But my ULTIMATE BEST DISH OF ALL TIME WAS
Manchester Tart . Served in large rectangular slabs - the soft delicious pastry with jam on covered in the thick yellow wobbly custard with a glace cherry on and a sprinkling of coconut. It was blinking beautiful. So delicious. Mouthwateringly yummy!

Imagine my giddiness on the rare occasion we arrived at the queue to find that it was a Chicken Supreme  AND Manchester Tart day!

Well, yesterday to be exact, I made a Manchester Tart. Only mine was round, not rectangular! I made it from the memory of what it used to be like! I made a sweet pastry crust, pricked its bottom and blind baked it till golden. When it was cool I spread a thin layer of raspberry jam over the base and I made a thick thick custard using Bird's Custard powder - a fancy pants home made egg yolk and vanilla infused cream concoction would not do - which was then poured onto the jam base and allowed to set. Dessicated coconut and a glace cherry was added!

TA DAAAA!!!! Think I am going to make Chicken Supreme for tea tonight!

What are YOUR memories of School Dinners?

If you were at school in the 70s - what meals have I blocked from my memory?!

What are you having for tea tonight?


  1. Rachel this is fantastic, I sat grinning to myself the whole time I read it, thanks for making my day xx

  2. UGH the gristle, I can remember chewing, chewing, get the rest. Frog spawn for pudding. Then in grammar school I took packed lunches. I used to sit opposite a girl who's Mum didn't individually wrap the food items ( a crime , for sure). So, the bread on her sandwiches OOOOOZED beetroot juice, so did her cake , and her apple was always red too.
    I'm now vegan and do not like the colour red ....coinkydink? I think not.
    Welocme as a follower to my blog home you feel at home whenever you visit (if you like home that it).
    Jane x

  3. Chicken Supreme! Yes! My fave was Ravioli & Chips! Om nom nom!

    Green Mint Custard though, was just plain WRONG! I still have bad dreams about it...

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  5. Well, our school meals were wonderful. Tasty, varied, served up friendly and plenty of it.
    It was exactly the same fare county-wide.
    I really don't understand fussy eaters - as a kid you need plenty of fuel and developing a fussy palate seems like an anti-survival trait to me.

    So there! :oP

    1. Agreed, I dont think I ate anything I didnt like, our dinner ladies prepared it on site and it was yummy delicious, the puddings I still dream about.... not like the crap they serve over here (Canada) french fires hot dogs and burgers daily...nothing but junk. All hale the DINNER LADIES of the 60's/70's

  6. Awwh I hated Tapioca evil evil stuff

  7. I've nodded so much my head is about to drop off. I had 70s school dinners too and they were just the same. Did you get the shocking pink custard with jam sponge too? I think I must have been a closet healthy eater even in those days, my favourite things were mashed swede, spring greens, and the occasional salads we had, all neatly laid out in straight lines on the dish with exotic things like grated carrot and beetroot. But my perfect school dinner was Lancashire Hotpot served with mashed carrots, sliced beetroot and pickled red caddage - something I still serve up regularly at home. Followed, of course, by Manchester Tart which was the only pudding I ever really liked.

  8. I grew up in Seattle, WA. The public school I went to offered hot meals every day. Each week had the same menu, no matter what. I can only remember that one of the days of the week, we had shredded roast beef in gravy served over a scoop of plain rice. At the time, we all complained about it, but now I remember it fondly and wish I could taste it again.

    When I moved to a private school, we had to bring our lunch except for one day a month when we were allowed to have food from McDonald's (or was it Burger King?). This was all about the teaching process as we elected a student to take our orders, another to add up the cost, and another to collect the money and give change, etc. It was actually teaching us skills we could use in real life. But all we really cared about was that we got to have hamburgers!!!

    Awww...the good old days!

  9. No school dinners in Australia, we all grew up eating vegemite sandwiches, with the odd lamington for recess, to go with the apple, or in my case, slightly dried out carrot sticks, and cheese cubes and crackers. School dinners sound so much more fun!

  10. Mint custard, yummy. I also remember the plain sponge with lemon sauce, my favourite. A favourite main was mince beef pie with a topping of home made crisps.

    I also liked the Manchester tart, my daughter made one ages back, happy memories. Yours looks great.

  11. I remember my school lunches very clearly.

    There was the time our school got a whopping good deal on hot dogs & we had hot dogs every day at lunch for so long I finally complained to my mom, who worked at the company the school ordered from, & she called in to complain.

    My VERY FAVORITE THING EVER at school was the Cheese Zombies. They were like a grilled cheese sandwich, but great big fluffy dough was layered with cheese & another layer of fluffy dough was put on top & then baked. They were so gooey. They were served with tomato soup. These were so popular, that a couple years back a local reporter hunted down a retired lunch lady & did an article with the recipe.

    Second favorite was the baked mac & cheese. I laughed at the menu you posted,because they serve bread with the mac & cheese.

    Here, have some carbs to round out your carbs. Makes perfect sense to me!

    Actually, tied for second was turkey gravy day. It was big chunks of turkey in gravy, served over a scoop of mashed potatoes & with a sweet roll on the side (and canned green beans). I still make this at home about every 6 months. I think I'll make it tomorrow!

  12. Oh my, I have so many delicious memories of OUR schools dinners...hmmm Cornflake tart with dreamy chocolate custard and the semolina with that blob of jam..... I even loved their liver and onions and especially the 'roast beef/chicken' with mash, yorky puds and gravy..

  13. Canada didn't do school dinners in elementary school. High School had a cafeteria where you could eat your own food or buy what was on offer. I just remember being used as free labour when I was in Grade 12, Home Economics that year was supposed to be two choices, quantity cooking or gourmet. I selected both because I wanted to be a Home Ec teacher. There was no difference! So I could two blocks of slavery.


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