Dinner Lady

School dinners – they’re never far from the news, and not often for the right reasons. My mother was a dinner lady, and back in the day, as I remember it, we were fed the best of stuff. I remember mutton stew, cold roast ham salad, beef olives, Scotch Broth and other bone-building delights. I wasn’t so keen on the desserts, especially the jugs of pink custard; or that horribly oversweet fudgy tart thing they used to bring out. I’m in a minority there – whenever I find myself in school-dinner-reminiscence company, that tart gets rave reviews. Can’t expect to like everything. (Although check here for an entirely different appreciation of the Pink Stuff!)


Nowadays though, it’s a different story. There’s been another wave of publicity around school meals. Some local authorities are pledging to make improvements to their verging-on-pathetic offerings, and doing something about the school-gate chip van. I know I’m old-fashioned in my sneery attitude to chips and pot noodles. The Wunderkind used to despair, oh fifteen years ago now, at this intractability, and the emotional blackmail regarding being one-of-the-crowd was a challenge to resist. But usually, I managed. Was he damaged for life? Surely not!


(Bronze pie and bridie by Tony Morrow)

A few years ago, a nine-year old child in Argyll blogged about her school meals to brilliant effect. The local authority was furious and tried to block her site but the publicity generated brought (grudging, perhaps) improvements in its wake. All she did was take a photo every day of what was on offer; and it wasn’t inspiring.

One particular angle on this caught my eye recently. Edinburgh City Council are introducing ‘meat-free Mondays’ in their schools; and it seems this is not only about health claims but around concerns re livestock welfare. Quality Meat Scotland has challenged this, calling for a better informed understanding of the realities of red meat production in this country. It seems the Council has put their reasoning in a press statement; but when I google ‘Edinburgh City Council press releases’, I find the message, ‘Sorry, there are currently no press releases.’ Really? I double-check, and try the archives – still no press releases. Amazing.

See the source image

Anyway, I think Quality Meat Scotland has a real-life challenge to respond to here. They need to get better at communicating their animal welfare credentials; we all need good information to lend to this debate. And in my view, they should be helping butchers to engage more proactively with the healthy eating debate. How about selling stew and soup packs with all you need inside – meat, veg, barley or beans, parsley, chillis or whatever else, packaged up with a recipe – so that customers can reach beyond the inevitable burgers and pies? If children ate better at home – if we all had higher standards – surely in due course education authorities put more money into the pot for school meals.

But please – no pink custard.






7 thoughts on “Dinner Lady

  1. What an interesting post. We have very much the same issue with school lunches here in the United States. It does sound like you’re Scottish beef Council definitely needs to up their game in terms of communicating. It would be wonderful If people could utilize their national food sources for healthier meals for the kids, wouldn’t it? And of course, now you have me very curious about this pink custard you mention. It sounds simultaneously entertaining and horrifying. Perhaps you should try making it for more modern audiences and blogging about it. 🙂

    1. Ah! recreate pink custard? Now that’s an intriguing idea! Will think about this one … maybe it’s something that could be bathed in – better enjoyed from inside the jug? Scotland’s answer to Cleopatra bathing in asses’ milk?!

  2. So many fond memories of Scottish school dinners. We sometimes used to exchange our dinner tickets when we knew chips were being served.
    One particular dessert we had was called flies cemetery.

    1. My Aunt Cis used to make Fly Cemetery, with a nicer shorter pastry crust than the one we got at school; but the school one was good too. I’ve been thinking recently that Fly Cemetery might just about qualify as a health food, with all that fibre. And insect protein is very in vogue! But I guess the sugar is a problem. When you exchanged the dinner tickets when chips on menu – I take it this was a case of enhanced school dinner value? Ticket touts lurking outside the dinner hall? We had absolutely brilliant chips at school dinners, far better (at least in my memory) than I’ve had since. Those were the days!

      1. Definitely ticket touts. Those who came from a large family had cheaper dinner tickets and then they would sell them for a higher price to get a bit of extra money. Enterprising?🙂

  3. I also hated that pink custard! And the “frogspawn” (tapioca). Sad thing nowadays is the incredibly small budget per head school meals services are working to – it’s something like 30p per head, although don’t quite be on that! The only healthy thing they could realistically do for that price is soup and a sandwich.

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