herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Making lunch boxes is a worthless chore -- I need a break and to be inspired

The school holidays this week mean only one thing to me and that's a long-awaited break from the daily tedium of making sandwiches for school lunches.

There's only another week now of lying frozen in horror when the alarm goes off, thinking "I have to fill four lunch boxes".

If you're thinking I've lost the plot, you've never found and cleaned out four lunch boxes, made four sets of different sandwiches, with side dishes of fruit and something sweet.

And that's when you have the stuff in. What about the mornings when you look in the bread bin and realise your husband has cleared it out with a toastie binge at midnight?

I know I'm being sexist here, assuming it's mum who makes the sandwiches. But nothing hurts like the truth. How many men make the sandwiches? Men don't like that kind of work. Work which goes on and on and on every single day and is, to a large extent, a waste of time.

Nourishing your children? A waste of time?

Ask yourself how many sandwiches the children actually eat. Ours can't be the only family home in which the dog jumps up and licks her chops when she sees a lunch box. She knows she's in for her daily serving of day-old sandwiches.

We've tried every type of bread. We even bought a bread maker to make fresh rolls. The dog thinks they're gorgeous.

We've done crackers, we've done rice cakes, and we've done last night's pasta in a tub. The novelty soon wore off. The only thing which is always popular is junk food.

I ate sandwiches the whole way through my schooling and was usually pleased to get them. But it's different nowadays. As Jamie Oliver said in his healthy eating TV assault on the US, Jamie's American Food Revolution, "The old-fashioned sandwich is out of fashion". The kids in his American school were eating off pre-packed plastic trays like airline dinners.

One girl had two types of crisps and some sweets. Jamie was nearly crying. He said: "The only thing I give a crap about is beautiful little children getting a good start in life."

What would he think if he came to an Irish school, I wonder? Well, I think the food in the lunch boxes would be better than in the US. There's a healthy food policy in lots of Irish schools.

Which isn't much use if the food isn't eaten. My kids often make the excuse that they didn't have time. When I started school there was an hour or more for lunch and lots of kids went home. Then the day got shorter and we ended up with two short breaks. My kids say they have 20 minutes to eat their lunch, sometimes less.

They eat at their desks, and some of them wander round the classroom as they eat. A friend's kid has been told to stay standing while eating because the teacher doesn't want crumbs on the books.

They're not being taught that eating together is important. They're not being taught table manners. Instead they're being taught to stuff down their food as fast as they can. This means lots of our kids are going from breakfast to mid-afternoon without a proper meal. They come home starving or stop off for junk on the way.

There is next to no attention given to healthy eating as a part of the school day. Instead we have a free milk scheme, which has now been extended to allow schools to give out yoghurt drinks and flavoured milks. These are chock-full of sugar. They're nothing more than the dairy industry's latest wheeze to shift milk.

Some kids do get school dinners and they're not bad, but they're not great either. When one of my kids started in a special needs school his teacher wrote in my son's diary what he'd had for lunch every day. When I saw "wedges" by way of vegetables two days in a row, I complained.

Some of these kids are seriously overweight. They will never have the willpower to get slim. And it's not their fault, it's ours.

We need Jamie's food revolution to come to Irish schools, or a counselling programme for mammies like me who are schmucks enough to spend nine months of the year making sandwiches for the dog.

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