Acouple of weeks ago an old university friend of mine, whose daughter has just begun her first year of studying, sent me a message to say that her girl, and everyone else in her halls of residence, has been put into isolation after a few of their housemates tested positive for Covid-19.
Her daughter is the first of her four children to leave home and go off to study - a worrying experience for parents at the best of times - but, given current circumstances, even more so.
This week another text pinged on my phone from my friend, with a photo attached of the food her girl had been provided with by the university in question. For a fairly hefty amount of money, they were delivering food parcels to all the students each day - a mixed bundle of tinned soup, pre-packed sandwiches, crisps and bread with a small nod to fresh fruit and vegetables in the shape of a bag of bright green apples.
My pal was stressed about the nutrition her child was, or more accurately, wasn't, getting. I called her back and murmured my agreement but I couldn't stop myself from reminding her that what we existed on in our first year of uni was a lot less impressive than what was arriving at her daughter's door.
There were 12 of us in my first student house and none could manage more than making toast and tea when we first arrived. Initially, we all had the best intentions about setting up a cooking rota and sharing the shopping but, after the first few disastrous and inedible meals, we decided it would be best just to look after our own repasts.
For most of us that meant a never-ending diet of packet noodles, instant mash and crisp sandwiches. If we were trying to be healthy, we'd buy a tin of tuna to stick in our sarnies as an alternative to the crisps and if we were feeling flush, and our parents had just sent us an extra tenner, we'd trot happily into the bakery at the end of our street and buy a chicken curry bake or a Cornish pasty. They tasted like manna from heaven after weeks on our very limited menu.
We had a laugh, thinking back to those days and how we'd liberate extra sachets of red or brown sauce from the bakery on our occasional visits, storing them away like some highly prized spice to add a bit of flavour to our net few meals.
So, I told her, the food her daughter was getting may be far from ideal but we were proof that a short spell on a nutritionally imbalanced menu wouldn't leave any long lasting damage. She seemed more content after we spoke but by the end of the week she texted me to say she had driven the 250-odd miles to her daughter's halls to deliver a big box of healthy, fresh food, an electric cooking plate and a series of handwritten recipes on how to prepare some simple meals. I don't blame her. I'd probably have done the same myself.
But it got me thinking about the not too distant future when my own kids fly the nest. I've been refusing to think about it, but my eldest will be packing her bags and heading off in just four years and I've realised that I need to make sure they're more ready than I was to go out into the world and feed themselves.
My eldest is a superb baker, but while a diet of cupcakes and muffins may sound lovely, it's certainly not vitamin rich. As for my son, I'm not sure he even knows where the oven is in the kitchen, never mind how to turn it on. So I have begun a crash course in how to prepare and cook vegetables and meat and turn out basic plates of food that may not set the culinary word alight but will keep them healthy when they inevitably head out on their own.
It's not something I like to think about. In fact, I may just go and have a bowl of instant mash with tomato sauce to remind me of the past and distract me from the future...