19 things we had for school dinners that you either loved or loathed

A typical school dinner scene at a British school in the 1990s
A typical school dinner scene at a British school in the 1990s -Credit:Mirrorpix

For generations, certain school dinner items have been a constant presence, from hearty hot meals to sweet indulgences.

Whether it was in primary or secondary school, we consumed these dishes regularly. Some were arguably beige delights that wouldn't meet today's nutritional standards, while others remain firm favourites both inside and outside of school.

Here are 19 things many of us ate as part of our school dinners that we either loved or loathed.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive but we've included a number of items from past school menus that you might recall.


1. School cake

The 'school cake,' a square slice of sponge cake with white icing and multi-coloured sprinkles on top, is still fondly remembered by many. The excitement of seeing dinner ladies serve it at lunchtime is a cherished memory for many.

Despite never really falling out of favour, in recent years, many have tried to recreate this retro cake at home or purchase a slice from a local bakery.

2. Turkey Twizzlers

The controversial corkscrew-shaped treats are still remembered not only for their taste but also for the uproar when they were banned from many schools. Loved by school children, Turkey Twizzlers disappeared from school canteens and store shelves in 2005, mostly due to celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's campaign.

Despite being fatty and processed, their removal from the lunch menu caused an outcry among youngsters. In 2020, Bernard Matthews relaunched the controversial product which are now reportedly much healthier, with double the turkey meat compared to the original.

3. Pasta King

Pasta King was a top-tier addition to the lunchtime menu and still exists in a number of schools. If you attended secondary school in the '00s, you'll possibly recall queueing for a Pasta King in the canteen.

Served in their signature red pots, you'd be unlucky to receive a particularly watery batch of pasta. For many, the meatballs were the menu favourites.

4. Pink custard

Pink custard was a common pairing with many retro school desserts. Often thick-skinned, the pink hue added an extra element of fun compared to your standard yellow custard.

Many believed the recipe simply involved adding food colouring to regular custard. However, some nostalgic individuals continue to make it today, adding hot milk to Angel Delight or a packet of pink blancmange mix.

5. Square pizza

Forget your triangular slices, square or rectangular-shaped pizza was a staple during our school days, typically served with chunky chips. Sometimes as thick as the pan it was cooked in, you knew it was pizza day when the aroma filled the dinner hall.

6. Crinkle cut carrots

Many of our school meals were accompanied by the vegetable combo of peas, sweetcorn - and crinkle cut carrots. They didn't taste any different and were likely purchased pre-cut in packets.

Many people only associated vegetables with school dinners. They weren't always the favourite part of a meal, but if dessert was on offer, they'd be eaten.

7. Cheese pie

Certain generations will recall being served some form of cheese pie or even cheese flan. Baked in a deep tin, this large dish would be cut into squares and often served alongside chips.

8. Mashed potato 'from an ice-cream scoop'

This doesn't require much more explanation - many schools served perfectly rounded scoops of mashed potato, reminiscent of ice cream. The consistency might have been questionable on some days, but they were typically served with meat like sausages, gravy, and vegetables.

A scoop of mashed potato
A scoop of mashed potato -Credit:Getty Images

9. Jam and coconut sponge

Another sweet treat to compete with the school cake - many pupils opted for a jam and coconut cake whenever it appeared on the menu. A staple in the school dinner halls, this light sponge topped with jam and coconut shavings was baked as a large traybake and cut into pieces.

10. Fish fingers

Not confined to the school grounds, sometimes nothing beats fish fingers, chips, and beans. A hearty lunchtime dish, it's still a go-to for generations of families today.

11. Rice pudding

You either loved it or hated it - but for many generations, rice pudding was the only dessert available at school. There are so many variations of it in supermarkets today, with many people not leaving rice pudding behind after their school days.

12. Spam fritters

The idea of a spam fritter might not be particularly appealing to today's youngsters, but it was once a staple in our schools. Typically served with mash and some form of vegetable, the spam would be deep-fried in batter and is believed to have been introduced around the time of the First World War.

13. Arctic roll

At school, you knew it was a good day when Arctic Roll was on the menu. A classic still sold in restaurants and supermarkets, you couldn't beat the ice-cream encased in a thin layer of sponge with jam spread.

14. Semolina and jam

The thought of semolina and jam may still send shivers down the spines of some former pupils - but other children absolutely loved it. The milky-porridge like dessert came in a bowl with a dollop of jam in the middle to sweeten it.

15. Chicken supreme

A bit different to many of the treats and dishes on our list, a school chicken supreme was usually served with chips or rice. Many kids looked forward to it, but in some schools it could be a bit gelatinous.

16. Turkey Dinosaurs

They never received as much controversy as their cousins the Turkey Twizzlers, but the Turkey Dinosaurs cemented themselves as another classic school dinner, served up with the likes of potato smiley faces or beans or spaghetti hoops. They're still made by manufacturers Bernard Matthews to this day, but they don't make their way onto school dinner plates quite as often now.

17. Tin fruit cocktail

Not the most adventurous, but many of us will remember having a bowl of tin fruit cocktail ready to eat next to our hot main meal. This dessert was usually paired with a little bit of whipped cream.

18. Tapioca

Tapioca is loathed by many from older generations and arguably unknown by school children of today. The milky pudding is still associated with our lost school days and was sometimes known as 'frogspawn pudding' because of its texture.

19. Iced buns

Sometimes known simply as school buns or iced finger buns, you can still buy these treats in many chain and independent bakeries. Served at dinner or even sold during break time, they weren't as elaborate as other desserts, but many loved them all the same.