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We need more than just the gutsy Jamie Oliver to stop our nation's diet continuing to be a recipe for disaster, argues Ros Dodd

Jamie Oliver's Return to School Dinners hits the small screen on Monday, which is when we'll get to find out if his one-man campaign to improve the quality of pupils' lunches has had any serious success.

How ironic, then, that just three days before the new Channel 4 series kicks off, it was reported that pupils at a South Yorkshire school are being fed fish and chips through the gates by parents who say the canteen isn't providing what their children want to eat.

Because students at Rawmarsh Comprehensive aren't allowed out of the grounds at lunchtime, some parents are taking their orders for the chip shop instead.

Oh Jamie, Jamie, my heart goes out to you because the miserable fact is that you're fighting a losing battle. The behaviour of the parents in South Yorkshire is a sorry symptom of everything that is wrong with our nation's eating habits.

Despite a glut of news stories warning of an obesity ‘epidemic' among children, the Government's talked-up determination to encourage better diets and poor old Jamie's single-handed campaign to get kids eating properly, the population continues to pig out on junk.

To know this is the case, all you have to do is to cast an eye over fellow supermarket shoppers' trolleys. I am constantly amazed and horrified by the contents of people's shopping carts - fizzy drinks, pizzas, beef burgers, oven-ready chips, crisps, sugar-laced cereals, cakes and biscuits, with hardly a green leaf in sight. It makes me want to scream - or cry, as Jamie so “eloquently” put it earlier this month.

"I've spent two years being PC about parents, but now is the time to say, 'If you're giving your young children fizzy drinks you're a ********; you are a t***. If you give them bags of crisps, you're an idiot'," raged the celebrity chef.

"I have seen kids of the ages of four or five, the same age as mine, open their lunchbox and inside is a cold, half-eaten McDonald's, multiple packets of crisps and a can of Red Bull. We laugh and then want to cry."

He's absolutely spot-on. Yet, cool though his image is, his message is being almost completely ignored by ignorant, lazy parents who seriously believe that by sticking a ready-prepared pizza and chips in the oven they have ‘cooked' a meal.

Remember when Delia launched her TV series aimed at getting back to culinary basics? She was lampooned for teaching people how to boil an egg. But it is no exaggeration to say that there are many, many adults out there who wouldn't have a clue about boiling an egg. Frying, yes, accompanied by low-rent sausages and bacon, but not boiling or poaching.

As a nation, we haven't the first idea about preparing wholesome meals. And this is despite the fact that cookery programmes are among the most-watched on television.

So what has gone so hideously wrong?

Firstly, our frenetic, task-juggling culture. Most people's live are so cluttered and frantic that there is no time for proper meal preparation. So mums don't cook and consequently kids grow up being unable to cook.

Secondly, our school canteens have been denied sufficient cash to serve up good food and, as a result, have sunk to the depths of serving junk in the cheery knowledge that kids want junk anyway.

Thirdly, domestic science lessons have been all but scrapped, which has produced a generation of young people who not only can't boil an egg, but would also be hard-pressed to recognise a courgette from a cucumber.

Fourthly, the Government has done nothing to halt the steady rise of supermarket “ready” meals, which are laced with salt, sugar and e-numbers.

The result is wholesale disaster, with many people living entirely on processed foods or takeaway meals.

Ironically, celebrity chefs haven't helped matters. Their culinary concoctions become more elaborate with every new TV series, which is understandable, but they make it look as if you need to buy lots of expensive ingredients and spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Yet it is perfectly possible to rustle up a good meal with a few fresh ingredients in less than half an hour.

Jamie Oliver is to be applauded for his ongoing crusade - but even if every school canteen in the land produced quality fare, the problem's not solved. These kids must be taught how to cook. As parents are no help, then cookery lessons in the classroom should be made compulsory.


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