I love the NeverSeconds blog, by a schoolgirl in Scotland and her primary school meals. Her blog has inspired me to do something similar.

I am a parent in England and I am angry about the food at my children’s secondary school. I am angry about what is on offer. I am angry about how much it costs. I am angry that no one seems to care.

It is time to start paying attention to school food in secondary.

A lot about their school is good. This is not a rant about their school. It is a rant about the state of school meals in secondary schools in England.

Cashless catering was introduced recently at their school, which means the money for lunch gets spent on lunch at school. Not at the newsagents or the supermarket, on the way to school or after.

It also means I can see what they get for their money, and this is where the problem has crept in.

Child number 1 (C1) is in Year 11 and about to leave. I will focus on Child number 2 (C2) in Year 7 for this exercise. Starting from the beginning of the cashless history, here’s what I can see, described as the items are on the statement and the number of times purchased:

PURCHASE HISTORY TO DATE
Take Away Meal = 28
Cake Biscuit Muffin (CBM)= 19
Jelly = 5
Fresh Fruit Pot = 3
Milkshake @ £1 = 2
Rolls = 2
Pizza = 2
Cereal = 1
Fruit Juice = 1
Flavoured water = 2
Water @ .70p = 1
Canned drink @ £1 = 1
Capri Sun = 1

Meals = 7
Meal 1 = Grape pot & Pizza slice @ £2.10
Meal 2 =  CBM & Jelly @ £1.45
Meal 3 = Cake & Custard & Milkshake @ £1.65
Meal 4/5/6/7 = 2 x CBM @ 1.30

On a positive note, I am impressed by the purchase of 3 fresh fruit pots, plus a grape pot purchase as part of a ‘Meal’ (whatever that is). I can only assume these were purchased for friends because C2 does not eat fruit. Or so C2 says…

On a negative note, I have spent a lot of money on a lot of crap.

The daily spend limit is set at £3, though the school has set the default at £5. With some effort, I was able to adjust mine to suit.

The purchase history shows that not a single balanced meal has been consumed since the beginning of the cashless history, on 14 December 2011. This also represents the total purchases since this date, which does not reflect enough food for all the days between then and today. Some days C2 eats rubbish, some days nothing.

This is not a school food system which is functioning as it should.

C2 lives in a house where good food matters, and recent transactions reflect an increase in Take Away Main Meals (which I’m told is a portion of pasta) and a decrease in CBMs (cake biscuit muffin) because I am making an effort to instill good eating habits.

So C2 should simply know better and buy what is good? It is not that simple. Make CBMs easily available, and affordable, and this is what will sell. Children are human. I think school needs to prioritise healthy choices. Below is a photo taken of the food on offer, as observed at a recent parent conference at the school.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a problem? Let me be clear, this is NOT a war on cake. It is a war on cake instead of a meal. It is a war on too much choice and the absence of accountability.

There are school food standards in place in England, thanks to Jamie Oliver and the countless other less famous campaigners for the cause. But so what? If my child can eat like this at school, something is very very wrong.

School food, however, is very confusing. Who checks to make sure the standards are upheld? Does anyone realise that standards only apply to food, and not to drinks, which is how the £1 milkshakes crept in there.

An aside, this means one-third of C2’s £3 daily budget can go to a milkshake. And did anyone notice from the above list that the school charges for bottled water? Not ok.

I have many questions. Where does the money come from to fund school meals? How does it get allocated to schools? Who is responsible for managing the budgets? If there is a profit, and I’m led to believe there rarely is, where does the money go? And if there is a deficit, how is this filled? Something just does not add up.

The first point of Jamie Oliver’s School Food Manifesto from October 2011 is about More Money for School Food. Read the whole thing here. But, relevant to my point, he says: ”

Funding should be awarded directly to the school and not the caterer because the school should make the decision on how best to increase take-up; for  example, by introducing staggered lunch breaks to reduce queuing, closed-site policies at lunchtime or cooking lessons on the curriculum to improve pupils’ relationship with food and increase their willingness to try different types of foods.

Did anybody hear that? Funding is actually going to caterers, not to schools?! Caterers are in the business of running profitable businesses and, in my limited experience, profit rarely equates to putting an emphasis on health.

Am I being unreasonable to get upset about this?

I would like to know what other parents think. Please comment.