Headteacher column with Steve Woodhouse

Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher of the Wolds Federation.
Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher of the Wolds Federation.

Many years ago I started my education in a village infant school in Doncaster. Although now an academy trust, the school is still there and continues to have a good reputation.

I have very few memories of my time there, but I do remember my dinner time experiences.

Miss Simpson was a scary lady; an imposing headmistress who once carried me into school over her left shoulder after I was somewhat reluctant to come in.

I remember spending a whole afternoon with her on another occasion after a disagreement with Joel Whitehead; it’s funny how I still remember his name.

After a few weeks in the infant school I started to have a recurring illness every other Tuesday. For the first couple of months, the staff didn’t seem to notice the emerging pattern. They would contact my mum and explain that I was unwell; Mum would appear shortly afterwards and sympathetically take me home.

For a while this continued, until mum realised what I was doing. It had all been a cunning plan to avoid the torture that was salad day.

Miss Simpson controlled the dinner hall by simply being in there. She patrolled the aisles between the tables and made sure that we all tried every part of the salad plate.

I can still see the spoonful of cubed beetroot being thrust towards me, followed by the grotesque dollop of salad cream. I hated the appearance, the taste, the texture; I hated everything about it!

Miss Simpson wouldn’t give in though, so I had to start the feigned illnesses. I don’t think I was particularly fussy when it came to food; I just knew what I liked.

In my opinion, children are now fussier than ever when it comes to meals and it can become a significant problem for many parents.

Local children’s centres even run courses on supporting parents who are struggling to feed their children.

I see it happening in our school dinner halls and it’s such a shame. The food is always excellent and children miss out as they are often reluctant to try anything new for fear of not liking it.

I believe that Jamie Oliver has a lot to answer for here as some meals have been ‘tinkered with’ for supposed health benefits.

Fishcakes used to be one of the more popular children’s meals but changing the fish content to salmon has certainly put children off.

As for removing chocolate concrete and pink custard from our school menus, that was perhaps even more damaging than employing Michael Gove...

Although we want children to try new foods, forcing them to do so doesn’t appear to be the answer.

A study of university students whose parents had insisted they ate a food as a child found that 72% of them now didn’t eat that food.

It emerged that they perceived the parent as the ‘winner’ and themselves as the ‘loser’.

Now that they’d left home and it was up to them, they chose to ‘win’ by not eating it.

Using pudding as a bribe trips off the tongue like the pink custard used to drip down your chin.

We know most kids will do anything for a sugar hit. But, according to research, not only are you showing your desperation, you’re giving them a thoroughly unhelpful message: eating the savoury bit is a chore and just something you have to endure to get to the bit worth waiting for.

It’s subconscious, but it’s loud and clear.