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Changes to French School Lunch Program, Will French Kids Eat Better?

Hmmm. Will your French child’s next burger at the school cantine have ketchup?  Maybe not. 

The French don’t like changes, but when they make them, they do it quickly.  Yesterday, in the French Journal Official (a listing of all the French laws/citations) a decret was published outlining changes to the French school lunch program.  Changes effective immediately.  Why are the French touching a good thing?  Did you know that the French school lunch program is one of the most respected in the world?  But to Bruno Le Maire, le ministre de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation (Minister of Agriculture and Food) it is unacceptable that half of the 6 million French children who eat lunch at French schools (eating the mandatory hot lunch, no packed lunches allowed) walk out of the lunchroom hungry.  Oui, unacceptable in a country that has their culture based on good food and fine eating.  Will the changes result in the government goals?  Objectives are: less hungry children, lower rates of childhood obesity and better nutritional intake for French kids.  Time will tell.

Here are the highlights of changes in the French school lunch program:

  • 4 to 5 different “plats” or dishes will be offered in place of the now standard first course, main course and dessert.
  • Ketchup, mayonnaise and salt will be available only with dishes recommended to have these condiments.  An example ketchup with be allowed with french fries, mayonnaise with hard-boiled eggs.
  • Water and bread will be available without limits.
  • Red meat and fish served once a week.
  • A dairy product offered daily; in the form of cheese, yogurt or even a glass of milk (this is new-milk is not usually served in French cantine).
  • Crudites (or raw vegetables, salads) served one day out of two.
  • French fries no more than once/week.
  • A list of menus and where foods were bought must be available for the last three months, in case of inspection.

Bravo the Frenchies! Again making strides towards combating obesity and encouraging healthy eating.  But I wonder, what will the kids think? Will they accept these new changes and eat more on their plates?  Will less kids walk out of the cantine feeling hungry?  What do you think?  Some of the changes are really positive:  less french fries, more raw vegetables and salads, a dairy product served daily. Less condiments available (salt shouldn’t be available for kids in the cantine anyway).  Less optimistic for me is the offering of bread, as much as the kids want.  Bread is a delicate issue, chez nous.  Put bread down at the table in front of kids and just see what they do:  eat it!  Eat it instead of the main foods.  If kids know they can eat bread as much as they want, this doesn’t encourage them to eat their main dish, especially if they don’t like what is being served.  Some kids just fill up on bread (hmm…why am I thinking of my kids here?) Why not put the bread out during the middle part of the meal?  This is what we do at home to help encourage our kids to eat a big part of the meal before starting on the bread.  Bread, for the French is a ‘hot topic’.  Tell them you should take away the bread and see the looks of amazement!

Also, I am not a big ketchup and mayo fan for kids. But some kids have to have these sauces on their foods.  Pasta and ketchup for example.  The thought is completely unappetizing for me, but not for some kids who love to eat their pasta this way. More choices for the kids on what dishes are available for their palate. Do you feel this is a good thing?  Maybe giving kids too many choices for their lunch could backfire.  By sticking to the same dishes for everyone, but having these menus more balanced and kid friendly, might be a better alternative. By offering more of those veggies kids adore (green beans, green peas, carrots, broccoli) and avoiding those less liked vegetables (brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach) could be a good idea.

Going now to school to pick up my kids, will check out what is on the menu for school lunch tomorrow.  They are eating in the cantine. Will see if these changes the government declared yesterday are reflected in the new menus.  Will let you know.  Bon Appetit Les Enfants.

Here is an article published today in French, detailing the school lunch program changes.  Check it out.  If you need any explanations, or have any comments, shout out some feedback in the comment section.

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