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What the dinner ladies say

SPARE a thought for the tinsel-bedecked dinner ladies as pupils munch their way through mounds of turkey roll and Brussels sprouts.

Pupils in Hampshire alone have eaten 68,000 Christmas lunches this week.

Cook Pat Willis, from the county's catering services, says that traditional festive fare has gone out of fashion. She is proud of her alternative pudding, made out of chocolate crispies and topped with a blob of jellied icing.

"Real puddings - dried fruits and stuff - aren't awfully popular. The children really don't like sprouts either, but they do seem to eat cabbage," says Pat.

At Brent county primary in Dartford, Kent, they are so proud of their catering staff that they even have their own Internet page called "Meet the dinner ladies".

Brent cook Cindy Bishop is a fierce upholder of the traditional turkey roast. She has spent 28 years dishing up school dinners.

"My children do like a roast," she says. "It's the one day of the year we dinner ladies really get appreciated. Every year we get cards saying thank-you and the look on the little kids' faces when they tuck into the chipolatas and mince pies makes it all worthwhile."

In the Midlands, nut allergies are such a problem that 450 schools are banned from serving Christmas pudding. Pupils have chocolate arctic roll or chocolate sponge instead.

"They delight in anything chocolate, and that goes for both my little customers and my big customers," says catering supervisor Val Hawkins, who's notched up 27 years behind the hatch of Bordesley Green girls' school.

The multi-cultural borough of Tower Hamlets in east London asks its primary schools to let pupils choose a celebration meal.

Isobel Cattermole, contracts operations manager, says: "Turkey roasts don't mean a thing to lots of our pupils. We serve traditional Bengali dishes every day, so at Christmas children choose a treat - fish and chips usually. We also give everyone some fruit and a chocolate shaped like a tree."


* "A nice fresh sprout needs 15 to 20 minutes. But serve them quickly because I always say a sprout that hangs around leaves a bad smell."

Val Hawkins


* "Five to seven minutes in boiling salted water is enough for adults. They shouldn't be mushy, but small children do like them softer, so at least 10 minutes."

Pat Willis


* "Ten minutes in boiling water. Then they cook for another five minutes on the hot-plate before being served. Just perfect."

Cindy Bishop, Kent

* "Don't bother! No one eats them anyway. If you really must - absolutely no more than three minutes."

Isobel Cattermole

Tower Hamlets

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