Philip Hensher: Make school meals like a dinner party

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The Independent Online

Prue Leith, that excellent woman and chair of the British Food Trust, has weighed into the school dinners debate. In my view, there can't be too many people jumping on to this particular bandwagon, and her opinion, though initially somewhat startling, deserves careful thought. On consideration, it makes a great deal of sense.

She has suggested that school canteens should abandon the attempt to offer children a choice of food, and present them, each day, with one healthy hot meal and a salad. She has put together a week's worth of menus, and the main dishes include roast chicken, fish pie, shepherd's pie, a curry and a pasta bake. This goes further than Jamie Oliver, who tried in his reforms to preserve choice, merely tempting children towards healthy options.

At first sight, it sounds like a step backwards, and somewhat dictatorial. Commentators have said that "we try to educate children to exercise choice", and that removing alternatives would, in some ways, fail them. No one accepted the obvious point, that to provide three healthy, home-cooked alternatives is unnecessary, and presents under-funded kitchen staff with a huge challenge every day.

More important, what this immediate response doesn't recognise is that choice has already been removed from a generation of children. Why do a large proportion of children, given a choice between, say, a good quality fish pie and a plate of the famous Turkey Twizzlers with chips, go for the non-nutritious option? Their choices have already been taken away, often by an upbringing which has only exposed them to cheap food, and by something which shouldn't be underestimated, peer pressure.

Many children, if they see that their friends are all opting for what is overwhelmingly seen as the "cool" option of a plate of chips, will hesitate to try anything different. From that hesitation will spring actual dislike, and the ability to choose will not in any sense be encouraged.

Even if you remove the unhealthy options, children, who are naturally conservative, will only fearfully venture on to unfamiliar things. I rather think that Prue Leith's solution, though strict-sounding, may be the most effective way of getting children used to trying new things in unprejudiced and, most important, unembarrassed ways.

There are lots of areas of children's lives where we don't, and shouldn't, consider giving them completely free choice. We accept that it is our duty as adults to introduce them to new experiences, to educate them, and that sometimes there is no place in this for personal choice. For instance, though we would try to make the experience enjoyable, most parents would think that it's their responsibility to make sure their children learn how to swim.

It's a shame more parents don't see it as their responsibility to bring up children who know how to eat healthily, but, more important, who would actively enjoy new culinary experiences. Everyone knows the exasperating experience of the adult dinner guest who "won't" or "can't" eat this or that perfectly reasonable food. That phenomenon is only going to increase, and it can only really be addressed by Prue Leith's rather strict-sounding idea.

Treat them like little adults at a dinner party; tell them that's what they're getting today. There will be something different tomorrow, too. In the end, for most of them, that is going to increase their ability to choose.

The Globe is where it's at these days

When Shakespeare's reconstructed Globe opened in 1997, few people expected it to be anything but a heritage-type tourist attraction.

It's astonishing how wrong this view has proved. Frankly, it is the expensive productions in Edwardian theatres and overlit concrete bunkers that now look old-fashioned and sleepy.

With this new season opening with a splendid period-dress Coriolanus, left, with Jonathan Cake in the title role and Mo Sesay as Aufidius, let's all celebrate this vivid and oddly new enterprise. With stagings of the plays in the space they were envisaged for, the Globe has become the site for a brilliantly living culture, the confrontation of the old and the new.

Everyone should go; it's honestly where the action is.

* Mr Guy Goma thought he was applying for a job at the BBC in IT. The BBC thought he was a talking head, and blithely interviewed him about the Apple Corporation's court case. The result has been broadcast across the world; poor Mr Goma's answer to a question about the legal basis of the judgment - "I am very surprised to see this verdict to come on me because I was not expecting that. When I came they told me something else and I am coming" - is now immortal.

But just as the Queen, presumably, does not have dreams about having tea with the Queen, so Mr Goma will now never have the standard anxiety dream. The worst thing has happened to him: he has been asked something on live television about which he knew nothing, and he gave some kind of answer, and the walls did not collapse. To tell the truth, I've heard paragraphs making much less sense issuing from the mouths of real experts on radio and television. Frankly, if it had happened on Libby Purves's Midweek, would anyone actually have noticed?

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