Will a pudding protest get its just desserts?

If there is one thing that you learn as a parent it is that children will always speak out when there is even the slightest whiff of unfairness in the air. And this is especially true when it comes to food. And when I say food, what I am really talking about is what many children (and some adults) think is the most important meal of the day, pudding. Warfare can break out in households over the dinner table, sparked by the conviction that someone else is having a sliver more of something delicious. But trying to avoid possible accusations about the discrepancy in portion sizes by employing a ‘one cuts, the other chooses’ the slice of [insert favourite cake etc; here] can also backfire. Children soon learn how to carry off the classic bluff and double bluff of ‘Thanks, this is the piece I actually wanted’ with a smirk or two. Annoying these greedy skirmishes are, learning to share, compromise and the concept of fairness are all important lessons to learn growing up. However, family arguments over who has the largest slice pale in comparison to the outrage and protest provoked when entire puddings are struck off a menu. Especially when those favourites are banished without warning for reasons that seem to be spurious at most. And at a primary school in Aberdeenshire, a change in menu caused some young students to take matters into their own hands.  

When Aberdeenshire Council updated its primary school menus to align with the Scottish government’s new statutory school nutrition guidelines, it’s clear they underestimated the affection that pupils Angus and William held for Mrs Moir’s puddings. Since April, the new Scottish primary school guidelines have come into force and state that sweetened baked goods and desserts served as part of a school meal must contain no more than 15g sugar per portion and be served no more than 3 times per week. With the sudden realisation that Rhynie Primary School’s updated healthier menu meant that ice cream and custard would be banned, the two students decided to begin a petition. The 10 and 11 year olds protested that ‘the puddings that we love, cooked by Mrs Moir, are the best in the world and we don’t want to lose them’. Although the two quickly collected a flurry of signatures, their petition did not have the result that they had hoped for. Instead of bringing back the much-loved puddings, the school and Council responded to the students by reiterating the importance of following the Scottish government’s new nutrition guidelines which aim to limit sugar intake and encourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables.

Now no one would argue against the wealth of evidence that shows that it is incredibly important to support healthy eating at a young age to promote life-long habits, good health and well-being. Eating a nutritious diet is also vital for learning. It impacts mental health, enhances cognitive skills such as concentration and memory and improves academic performance. For some children, the food that they are served at school may be the most nutritious meal that they will eat all day. In essence, schools are an ideal setting to give children the opportunity to eat a healthy, varied diet. As a Registered Nutritionist, I can only support schools that adopt a healthy food policy that reflects this, so I am hardly going to argue the case that we should be serving more puddings in schools. Although this is not to say that it is never a good idea to add a pudding to a meal, as it is a very effective way to get in more calories and ideally, nutrition for those who need it. Even so, I really sympathise with Angus and William because while ice cream and custard have been outlawed, other desserts have somehow slipped through the net. Brownies, muffins, gingerbread sponge and cookies are now on the menu, albeit they are not served more than 3 times a week.

In terms of healthy eating, this seems like a really confusing message to give to children and parents alike. Because if you are told that your school is now serving a healthy menu that conforms to some set nutritional standards, everything on it should be widely recognised as such. But is a brownie or gingerbread really healthy? Healthier than, say, a bowl of fruit with some banned custard?  

Now I have no doubt that the suspect custard and ice cream at Rhynie was more likely to be dolloped over a piece of sticky homemade cake or luscious crumble rather than a bowl of plain fruit but my point remains the same. Children (and their parents) appreciate consistency and a clear message. It simply does not help to encourage healthy eating when some puddings are erroneously labelled healthy by default. If brownies and cookies are healthy when you are at school, why wouldn’t it be healthy to eat them at home, as well? What about those sold in cafés and supermarkets? Still healthy?

Since the nutritional requirements for food and drink in primary schools allow sweetened baked goods and desserts to be served and given that Rhynie has made the decision to offer a pudding each day, why not teach children to have a healthy regard for them? I think that it would be far more valuable to give the message that ‘pudding’ is not a distinct and separate food group and like all foods high in fat, salt and sugar, we don’t actually need them in our diet. However, we all enjoy eating them because they taste so good! If you eat a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet, then it can still include a pudding as long you eat them less often and in small amounts. In other words, I think it would be more effective to give out a healthy eating message alongside tweaking all of the recipes to turn them into healthier versions rather than banning some puddings but not others.

Custard, for example, can be made with lower fat milk, less sugar or with equivalent sweetener to make a portion that will contain far less sugar, saturated fat and more calcium than a brownie. Top any berries or unsweetened stewed fruit with a drizzle and maybe a sprinkle of oats and you have a far healthier and satisfying dish.

Of course, I fully accept that it may not stand up in a head-to-head against Mrs Moir’s finest and I suspect that it will take more to convince Angus and William of the merits of such a pudding. Even one of my own children likes to tell me when they are served a dessert that is heavily fruit-based then it’s not really a ‘pudding’. Although they say this as they take large mouthfuls of it…Nonetheless, I can only hope that sense prevails, the ban is rescinded and Rhynie Primary sees a return of a healthier custard and maybe some more new recipes.

Speaking of which, although I do not normally encourage people to eat pudding you will have gathered that like many, I believe that there is definitely a time and a place for a good one in the context of a healthy, nutritious diet. So here is much healthier version of an Easy speedy custard. What you pour it on is down to you.

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