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French School Lunch Compared to American School Lunch: Choices

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This is article one of five on a themed series on school lunch in France and America. If you would like to see article two, click here for: French and American School Lunch Program: Vegetarianism

Free To Choose Your School Lunch Meal: The American Way

America, the land of the free (to choose) your school lunch. A lunch program where kids are free to bring in their own packed lunch from home, free to choose from at least two main courses from the school lunch menu or free to sit down and eat nothing.

Are these too many choices?

Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Let’s consider the school lunch system in France.

  • No choice for the main lunch dish. The elementary school child eats what is presented to them, unless there is a declared allergy by a medical doctor.
  • Packed lunches from home are prohibited.
  • The school lunch staff encourage (quite strongly) children to taste the main meal that is presented. (This is part of the French culture’s éducation au goût ).

Why is the French school lunch system organized so children cannot bring their own packed lunches?

One reader answered this question in a comment after reading French and American School Lunch Menus Face to Face, Who Wins?

“…so it was unthinkable for French teachers and politicians to let rich kids with rich food eating just beside poor kids eating very few.”

It was considered to be part of the esprit of equality to have each child eat the same meal, those who are wealthy and those who are not. This tradition continues even now.

The other alternative is to pick up your child at school at midday to eat lunch at home. The break is usually two hours long.

Do we give American children too many choices of what to eat for their lunch?

And if we try to satisfy all childrens’ taste, why is there is still so much food wasted and kids still leaving the lunch room hungry?

Do these choices provide our children good nutritious meals? In both America and France recent federal changes in the school lunch program looks at a similar goal: provide schoolchildren with nutritious meals that they like to eat.

Maybe the answers are sitting in front of our eyes. What is the current school lunch situation around France and America?

Let’s take a look at two towns and two lunch menus from two years ago and today:

 Ames, Iowa and Poitiers, France School Lunch Menus from November 2010 and November 2012

Ames, Iowa, November 2010

Hot Dog on a Bun or Ham & Cheese Sack Lunch

Baked Beans

Mandarin Orange Segments

Served with a half pint of milk

Poitiers, France, November 2010

Lorraine, France theme

Pâté Lorraine

Potée Lorraine  (a casserole cooked on the stove filled with lots of different vegetables such as leeks, turnips, cabbage, carrots, onions. )

Cheese Carre L’Est

Blueberry Tart

Served with slices of baguette and water to drink

Ames, Iowa, November 2012

Whole Grain Chicken Nuggets OR Yogurt/American Cheese/Crackers/Crackers Fun Lunch

Mashed Potatoes OR Jicama Slices w/ Lite Dressing

Orange Wedges OR Pineapple Tidbits

Served with half pint skim, 1% milk or chocolate skim

Poitiers, France, November 2012

Radishes with Butter

Daube Marseillaise (Beef Stew with tomatoes, olives, onions and green pepper) with Rice

Emmental cheese, Applesauce

Served with baguette and water to drink

Too many choices? Have there been any significant changes from two years ago in either town? Here are my thoughts. What are yours?

  • Why does Ames, Iowa have three choices for lunch? And what is yogurt cheese fun lunch? This the main meal in France: Beef stew with tomatoes, onions, olives and green pepper. What would you rather eat? And if you were a child, would you eat beef stew?
  • Hot dogs for the main dish in Ames, Iowa? This is not healthy food and it is a choking hazard.
  • Skim milk or 1% milk is now on the menu instead of regular or 2% milk. The echos from parents are that their children do not like this lower fat milk and don’t drink it. And your kids?
  • Ames, Iowa has added some more fresh vegetables including jicama slices and more fruit choices. A move in the right direction.
  • Poitiers, France has fresh radishes on the menu. Is this food that young children (some as young as three-years-old) would eat? I don’t think my kids would have eaten fresh radishes for the first course at lunch. And yours?
  • French kids drink water and baguette but the new guidelines add a piece of cheese (or other dairy product filled with calcium) to the French lunch menu.

Choices on school lunch menu: for or against?

The American school lunch system has choices on the menu. Choices for the main meal, choices for the side dish and choices on what type of very low-fat milk to drink. Kids should be happy with something that is offered. This seems logical.

What if more effort was put into providing one really delicious and healthy main meal choice for American kids? Like in France, with all elementary school kids (up to middle school) just being served what is on the menu for that day.

This could be something to blend into the American school lunch program. One meal option cooked with freshness and taste.

First we need to incorporate léducation au goût (taste education) into the school curriculum. If American children aren’t used to just sitting down, tasting and eating what is in front of them, this one choice option could be a disaster. Taste education isn’t currently part of the American culture.

Maybe it should be.


If you would like to read more school lunch in France, please join BrightonYourHealth by subscribing to our newsletter. You can get updates and recent articles in your email box. By subscribing here, you can also download your free E-report on eating like the French without sounding like a food snob!

There is also a great website by Karen Le Billon which takes a weekly look at French school lunch menus. Check it out!

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  1. Dist. Ind. HLF - December 4, 2012

    French School Lunch Compared to American School Lunch: Choices

  2. Mary Brighton - December 4, 2012

    {Latest Article} This article is already getting a lot of buzz! Could American schoolchildren benefit from having…

  3. Mary Brighton - December 4, 2012

    {Latest Article} This article is already getting a lot of buzz! Could American schoolchildren benefit from having…

  4. Mary Brighton - December 4, 2012

    {Latest Article} This article is already getting a lot of buzz! Could American schoolchildren benefit from having…

  5. Suzanne Saxe-R, Ed.D - December 4, 2012

    RT @mbrighton66 French School Lunch Compared to American School Lunch: Choices: French children have no choice b…

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