Roast turkey, roast potatoes and boiled carrots. If a cooking act had dished this up on Britain's Got Talent, Simon Cowell would have buzzed it after 10 seconds; Piers Morgan after 15; while Amanda Holden might have given it the benefit of the doubt. I watch watery gravy run riot round the rim and regret that this meal has not been prepared by a Gordon Ramsay wannabe, but by a bunch of dinner ladies. School lunches were introduced at the twins' primary a term ago, and today parents have been invited to taste them.
For a mother who is the cooking equivalent of British tennis (not up to much), school dinners have been a godsend. Not only have packed lunches been dispensed with, the twins now get a culinary repertoire infinitely superior to my own: proper roasts, cottage pie, shepherd's pie, fish pie, sneaky pie (whatever that is) and pastas with different sauces. Within the three-weekly menu cycle, chips are served just once, same for pizza.
The only remotely unhealthy offering is old-fashioned puddings with custard, but Claire and Oliver (this makes me feel extremely holy) often choose cheese and crackers instead. Ask the twins which one they prefer, packed lunch or school dinners, the answer is unequivocally the latter. "Thank God we don't have to have the same thing every day any more," says Oliver.
I wait for the other mums and dads to lift cutlery, then tentatively do the same. Food perched on fork, the clock rolls back 20-odd years, to molar-challenging beef and semolina puddings ghastly enough to induce nausea on sight. This, however, is actually not bad. The turkey is succulent, the carrots surprisingly taste like carrots, and the roast spuds are cooked to perfection – crispy on the outside, soft in the centre. So far, so good, so proof that Jamie Oliver's crusade has worked. For less than £2 a pop, "pukka tucker" he'd call it.
Fruit jelly next. I watch another mum load her spoon. "I've no problem with tinned fruit," she says, before emptying the spoon's contents into her mouth. "Ugh," she winces. The head lunch lady suddenly appears. "Is everything all right?" she asks. "The jelly is dreadfully sweet," says the mum. "Could you make it with less sugar?" "Oh no," says the lunch lady, beaming with pride, "there's no sugar in that. It's artificial sweetener."
Eyebrows are raised (artificial sweetener, not so "pukka tucker"...) but the matter is dropped because Reception files into the dining room. I rush to meet Claire and Oliver (who's embarrassed when I kiss him) and help them carry their plates to the table. They eat, I watch, infinitely proud as plates are licked clean. The children insist I fetch a bowl of jelly, too and – artificial sweetener or not – it's nicely edible. Before I've even finished it, though, Oliver has magically disappeared, not a kiss, not a goodbye, nothing. I'm happy to be left with Claire, but bereft that my five-year-old son has disowned me.
Hours later, sensing something's wrong, my husband asks what's up. I tell him about Oliver giving me the cold shoulder. "That's great news," he says." I'm affronted. "What do you mean 'great news'?" "Well, not only does it mean Oliver loves his school, it shows he's not a mummy's boy."
Sensing hostility, my husband changes tack. "How was the school lunch?" he asks. "They used artificial sweetener in the jelly." My husband, who normally has no opinion on culinary matters whatsoever, says, with all sincerity, "Oh dear".Reuse content