School dinners stir up fond memories for some, recurring nightmares for others. In England, school dinners of the 70s and 80s probably brought out the lardiest, cheapest, most processed school dinners of all time. Yet it’s today that parents are battling over the lack of healthy meals served at schools. My parents wouldn’t let me take home lunch, kids had to have a hot meal during the school day. For younger kids, I do agree with this adage.
There are many dishes from my school days that are still vivid in my mind. Mashed potato was always served in a perfectly round ball. It was lumpy, yet perfectly spherical. Chicken curry would be made with curry powder and tons of raisins, cottage pie would always contain more peas than meat in the filling, and baked beans were served with everything. Schools in the 80s thought baked beans were a food group in their own right. Desserts were memorable too, but not for the right reasons. Custard with skin so thick you could cut it with a knife. On Friday the custard would be pink. Ladled over treacle pudding, spotted dick, or jam roly poly, the only “light” dessert on offer was rice pudding.
I’m sure every country has had its share of less than appetizing school meals over the years. Traditionally, schools had their own kitchens and most meals were cooked on-site. Globally there has been a shift towards contracting out catering services to private companies, where ingredients are cheaper and preparation is easier. In England meals must now include one or more portions of vegetables or salad every day and no more than two portions of fried foods or pastry-based foods each week. There’s an emphasis on wholegrain foods in place of refined carbohydrates too.
Most of Beijing’s international schools contract out their catering services. Dulwich College Beijing and International School of Beijing use Chartwells. Early Years Students have a set menu which is served at the table. Consisting of raw vegetables, fruits, and mixed salads, a choice of western and Asian main dishes served with hot vegetables and carbohydrate, one low sugar dessert, and water. Junior School Students are given a similar set menu but sandwich options are also available. The Senior School menu allows students a wide variety of choices from a number of counters, including a live cooking station, Asian station, Italian Corner, and sandwich deli bar.
Canadian International School of Beijing provides a range of meals by Sodexo. Menu selections feature western and Chinese dishes, including buffet, set meals, salads, juices, and a snack bar. For kindergarten, set meals are provided, and a daily soup is served with every set meal. Western Academy of Beijing food provider is Aramark, and students have the option of buying lunches or bringing their own. Lunch cost RMB 20-30, and students can choose from a wide range of international cuisine from various outlets within the school. There’s a daily western set, Chinese set, and vegetarian set menu, plus vegetable sides, one starch, and steamed rice. Deli sandwiches and a salad bar are also available.
Harrow International School Beijing provides lunches for all students and unlike most international schools, the cost is included within the overall fee structure. There is a choice of western, Asian, and vegetarian options together with soup and salads. They have a range of desserts, which include bread pudding, apple pie, and brownies. What all of these schools have in common, is the only drinks available for younger age groups are water or milk. The UK, US and some European countries are currently facing an uphill battle trying to encourage children to drink far less juice and other sugary, carbonated drinks. Even diluted juice still contains far too much sugar, which is bad for their health and teeth.
Whilst English school dinners have come a long way since lumpy mash and spam fritters, I still think my kids are eating a far healthier more balanced diet here in Beijing. Let’s hope the good eating habits they have now, stay with them throughout their childhood.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.