School dinners once meant a daily menu of chips and pizza, served from a greasy canteen.
If you were at the front of the line, they’d be hot – if not, bad luck.
Fortunately, they’ve come on a long way since the days when Jamie Oliver crusaded to take Turkey Twizzlers off the menu.
Several northern Lincolnshire schools have upped the ante with cuisine that wouldn’t look out of place in a restaurant, including set curry and roast dinner days.
Caterers Mellor introduced their menu across Tollbar Multi-Academy Trust in January, and it has been going down well with pupils.
The idea of returning to school dinners did give me some trepidation, but I visited Cleethorpes Academy to give them a go.
This certainly wasn’t your typical slapdash roast dinner.
Every plate was filled with a chicken breast, a large Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, roast potatoes and plenty of vegetables, all covered in steaming gravy.
If someone had handed me that plate when I was at school, I might have dropped it in surprise.
It doesn’t quite compare to the ideal homemade roast dinner, but it’s certainly an improvement on the days when schools spent the bare minimum on pupil nutrition.
(I know I’ve cooked a lot worse.)
The cutlery is currently wooden but will be upgraded soon.
There was no chance of children going back to classrooms hungry and disruptive.
It turned out after the main course came dessert – something that was unheard of at my school in the early 2000s.
Rather than a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar, kids on that day had the choice of a brownie, cornflake cake, cupcake or others.
I was also surprised to hear there was a different menu for every day of the week, with options rotating every three weeks. This will be customised for each school.
(In my school days, the options were usually whatever had been shoved in the oven or sneaking off to the corner shop.)
Other students who didn’t want the hot dinners were tucking into the healthy meal deals with a wrap, a drink and a snack for £2.50.
There were also fruit pots, yoghurts, mousse and fresh fruit available.
Year eight student Lola Simspon said: “I prefer it now to the food we had before – there’s a lot more choice and it’s healthier.”
Others said they opted for hot meals much more often now.
It must be reassuring for teachers to know that the kids are getting well fed.
If it was my child at school, I would be happy for them to be tucking into something as nutritious and well-rounded as this.
It’s almost enough to make you wish you could go back to school.