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What it was like to be the kid who loved school dinners

If eating counted as a qualification I’m certain I’d have dominated the curve at school. I’d have aced the coursework bit of a GCSE in Custard Consumption and excelled in an exam on Spaghetti Scoffing. So, as you’d expect, dinner time was my favourite part of the school day because 1) it gave me a break from learning about Pythagoras’ Theorem and 2) it was the precious hour where I got to meet my weekday beloved; The School Dinner.

Yes, I might sound as doolally as a sunbathing nudist in Antarctica (because who in their right mind admits to LOVING school dinners?) but let me explain before you think I’m as nuts as a bag of pistachios.

The thing is, I enjoyed school meals (even the concrete chips and soggy semolina) because they were so different to the foods I ate at home. I had spicy things like Biryani and chicken masala at tea time because those were the traditional South Asian foods that my Pakistani mum knew how to cook. Snacks were Bombay mix and sugar cane stalks, desserts were colourful sweets that were so sugary they made my teeth ache and drinks, instead of orange squash, included mango juice and a red syrup diluted with water that tasted like rose petals.

That was my normal and it was all delicious but when September rolled round, after a summer of snacking on pakoras dipped in mint chutney, I was prepped for scoffing chicken pies, downing dumplings with gravy and eating domes of mashed potato that were doled out with an ice cream scoop by Margaret the dinner lady. My mantra? The blander, the better, baby.

My classmates thought I was off my rocker, especially when they saw me relish the cheese and crackers that they described as ‘feet sandwiches’ because the cling film they were wrapped in made the cheese go sweaty. But I’d genuinely never eaten a cream cracker outside of school so I carried on regardless even though their comments made me feel weird. And the cheese tasted goooood.

Because I loved school dinners I hated school trips that required packed lunches – my mum would pack kebab sandwiches in my lunchbox that made the school bus smell like an onion factory. It was worse for my big sis who was once sent on a trip with a thermos full of beef burgers because my mum was trying to help us fit in and she thought burgers were properly British. Today’s me laughs about it fondly and thinks bless her for trying. The old me wished for an invisibility cloak and a mum who put ‘normal’ things in my lunchbox, like chicken mayo sandwiches and bananas.

Being made fun of for liking school meals and simultaneously laughed at for eating smelly packed lunches taught me one thing though; eat what you want. It’s your life, your body and your taste buds – don’t let anyone shame you into changing what you like eating for their benefit. Do your own thing and you’ll soon attract other people who feel the same way as you do, even about the deliciousness of a sweaty slice of cheddar sandwiched between two crackers, because that’s how you find real friends.

In a nutshell? You do you, boo.

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