WHAT IS FOR LUNCH TODAY, MUM?
By Hampshire EMTAS Bilingual Assistant Eva Molea
Being a parent is never easy, being an EAL one sometimes can be even worse… In the first chapters of my diary I wrote about my experience as an EAL child, how I made my daughter feel comfortable in her new environment and what strategies I used at home to support learning. In this new chapter, I will try to tell you how I found my way though the labyrinth of school meals.
© Copyright Hampshire EMTAS 2018
4/9/2018 - Ok guys, back to school, yahoo! After six weeks with the children in full swing, the sense of relief at the idea that we don’t have to entertain them anymore is tangible. In every house, uniforms are all set at the end of the bed, schoolbags already by the front door. Everything seems to be in the right place when the most dreaded question arrives from our lovely little ones: “MUM, WHAT AM I HAVING FOR LUNCH TODAY?” And the nightmare begins. At least for me, because I hate thinking about lunch before I have even had breakfast! And also because Alice is a bit fussy when it comes to eating, and going through all the possible choices with her can take hours.
For some of us EAL parents, school dinners (they are called dinner even if it is lunch…) are an unknown territory. In Italy, usually school ends at 1 pm and children come home for lunch. Some families choose to leave their children at school for a longer time, in which case they eat at school, but it is not mandatory. And even if they eat at school, they have no choices. The menu is one, and often families have to provide part of it.
Imagine Alice’s surprise on her first day at school in the UK when she was offered several choices: meat menu and vegetarian menu which she had to order by colour (red and green). Never mind colour blindness… Alice could also choose from a sandwich and jacket potato menu. To guarantee variety and choice – and to add a little spice to my organisational skills – school menus work on a three week cycle, whereas the jacket potatoes and sandwich menus stay the same throughout the terms. I could never be thankful enough with Alice’s school for providing me with a lovely colourful copy of the menu, as big as a bedsheet, that we stuck on a magnetic white board – so we can always have it at hand and discuss the choices in advance. Thankfully, Alice’s teacher thought of also giving us a translation of the menu into Italian (see HC3S for translations). These are a great support for EAL parents, thank you, while we try to get our head around what foods such as Yorkshire puddings might possibly be.
Being the fussy little eater that she is, Alice approached the school menu with some resistance, so at the beginning she was allowed to pick and choose what she wanted to eat. She was eager to be like all the other children, so she wanted to take part in this process of lining up/getting a tray/having all her food put in there in one go/sit down/clear your plate/go to play. She enjoyed it, and also eating with other children was a chance for her to talk freely to them. But this new system had also some downsides: one day she came home very mortified because her tights and skirt were completely covered in gravy. She told me that her hands got dirty and there were no napkins available, so she had to clean them on her tights. YAK! My first thought was that it was not possible that there were no napkins. She must have made it up, mustn’t she? So the next morning I went to her school and asked about napkins and I was told that the child had been truthful: THERE WERE NO NAPKINS. ARGHHHHHH! Anyway, she enjoyed the flavours of school food, loved the roasts, avoided all the ‘exotic’ ones (such as curry dishes), stayed far away from garlic bread (I will take the chance here to tell you a secret: Italian cuisine is NOT based on garlic). She found it a bit strange to have all the food in one tray, since in Italy she would have been served each course in a different plate. She missed Anita’s – the school chef in Italy – dishes though: pasta with pumpkin, pasta with beans or chickpeas, meatballs, meatloaf…
Since, on some specific days, our lovely little one did not like any of the food offered at school, we had to choose the packed lunch option. In Italy, Alice would normally have in her lunchbox a “panino” with prosciutto cotto (ham), prosciutto crudo (cured ham) or similar with mozzarella or local cheese, or a Caprese salad (mozzarella with tomatoes, oil and basil), or a pasta or rice salad, or her all-time favourite frittata di pasta and then some fruit and a nice thing. Water as a drink. We were advised by Alice’s teacher that ideally, her lunchbox should be balanced and contain: carbohydrates (pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes), wholemeal if possible; proteins (meat, fish, eggs, low-fat cheese); vegetables and fruit. It was a bit of a challenge to make such a brilliant lunchbox when I was still half asleep, but that’s life! The school was giving out flyers on how to create a balanced lunchbox and they referred to the NHS Change 4 Life website which has easy to follow guidelines and lots of suggestions on how to make healthy and appealing packed lunches. Mind you, there are a lot of possible variations for sandwiches: bread, wraps (Alice’s favourite), pita, flatbread… so it is easier to make them look different and less boring for her.
In addition to this, Alice’s school provided information about morning snacks which have to be low in sugar and fat meaning that crisps, chocolate, sweets and fizzy drinks are banned from school bags and lunchboxes (on which I agree, mainly because personally I don’t like them, exception made for chocolate). The top suggestion on NHS Change 4 Life is fruit and veg followed by lower-fat, lower-sugar fromage frais, plain rice cakes or crackers with lower-fat cheese, one crumpet (cold and without jam???), one scotch pancake (I had to look it up on Internet…), one slice of malt loaf (Alice would throw it back at me…). I may be old fashioned and used to food cooked from scratch, but probably a slice of homemade cake would keep our children healthy and happy…
The school office staff was an incomparable source of information. They were so very patient with me when Alice started. They answered my many many questions and took the time to explain that children in years R, 1 and 2 were entitled to free school meals. I learnt we would start paying for school dinners when Alice would move up to year 3 unless our circumstances allowed us to have free school meals until she’s 16 years old. To check entitlement to free school meals I was signposted to the Hantsweb pages by the school office. They also told me about the EMTAS website, which has a brilliant section for parents where I found very useful information about many different aspects of my child’s life in her new school, like support, good parenting, behaviour management, English classes for EAL parents, the Young Interpreter Scheme (other children helping newly arrived EAL pupils to settle in) or the phone lines in different languages where a bilingual assistant can answer parents’ questions when they feel a bit lost.
So, now that you have reached the bottom of this very lengthy piece, how about a well deserved piece of cake??