The Three Fish Finger Puzzle

Friday is Fried Fish (and Chips) Day. It is the one day per week when fried food is on the school dinner menu and it is the day when most children take the school meal option (rather than a packed lunch).

So, Fish and Chips is popular, obviously.

The mystery is this: why would anyone take the full three fish fingers on offer and not eat a single bit of a single one of them?

I have been stationing myself at the return trolley for the last couple of weeks at lunchtime, asking why certain things have not been eaten, helping to clear plates and trying to drop the queues (no-one likes a queue really). Whole jacket potatoes get thrown away, untouched. Puddings not started get binned; entire portions of beans get scraped away.

Now what you have to know is that nothing gets forced on to a child’s plate; if they do not want peas they do not get given peas. If they want ketchup they get it but if not, then not. And if they do not want the full portion of three fish fingers then they are not given them.

I stood at the trolley and at least ten children brought back plates that held three slices of crumbed and fried fish, totally untouched. They had not cut them open and been put off by texture, colour, smell or taste. They had not been tried at all, so no claims of ‘soggy bottom’ are valid. They could not tell me they didn’t like them because:

A)     they chose them, and

B)      they hadn’t actually tried them.

It is ridiculous, and baffling and wasteful.

I asked each child, in a nice not a threatening way, why they hadn’t eaten any of the fish fingers. I am also worried by the sudden loss of articulacy shown by our normally talkative and observant children. I was told, ‘I don’t like them’, ‘I don’t like fish’, ‘They aren’t nice’, ‘Sorry’ and a lot of shrugs.

In conversations about what I want my school to offer I will normally say that I want to see a school that produces every child engaged all of the time. We are failing to engage these children in thinking about their food - what they want, what they like, how much they will eat, how much to take. We are failing to develop stamina and resilience if the children stop too soon or find it too hard to cut and eat. We are failing to fully promote and develop respect for the environment if children do not do something themselves to reduce their waste.

Some data to put this in context:

  • Hallam (our Parliamentary Constituency) has the 11th highest average earnings per family, and the highest outside London and the south east.
  • Only 4% of our pupils are on ‘free school meals’, against a Sheffield average of 21%.
  • Our school meal uptake is above average for Junior Schools.
  • We throw away an average of 22kg of unwanted but served food every school day.

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