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French School Lunch Compared to American School Lunch: Taste Matters

Skim Milk

Skim milk is now offered on American school lunch menus. But do kids like this non fat milk?

This is the last article and conclusion from a series looking at differences in the school lunch program in America and France. If you would like to read the first parts, you can do so here: Choices, Vegetarianism, Local Foods, Money Matters.

My call to action for parents or caregivers is our need to make a concerted effort to make sure our children are eating well at home and in school. Lunch is one of the two main meals of the day. Good child nutrition is an important aspect to helping our kids learn better and grow healthier.

The taste of food does matter to children

In both countries the aim is the same: to offer healthy nutritious school lunch meals for our children. Meals that kids will eat and be satisfied.

And what is the reality? Kids still leave the lunchroom in both countries hungry and dissatisfied.

Food taste is important to children. If taste wasn’t critical, than logically a child would just eat the food presented to them to meet their basic physiological need to satisfy hunger. Unless our children are not walking into the school lunch room hungry (why would this be I don’t know), we can conclude that some children reject the school lunches because they lack taste or because there are not enough choices to meet their desires.

In America, there is a lot of choice for kids on the school lunch menus.

In France, there is a lot of taste, freshness and variety on the school lunch menus.

Ironically, it is my opinion that the weaknesses in one school culture are the strengths in the other one. And it seems to me that the taste of food wins over choice for a child’s acceptance of what they will eat and be satisfied with. Let me explain.

If you have read the other articles in this series on choices, vegetarian, eating local and money matters than you know the following:

The strengths of the American school lunch system are that kids have choices:

  • choice of 2-3 main meal lunches
  • choice to bring a packed lunch to school
  • choice of open salad bars at some schools
  • choice to eat a vegetarian meal

These choices are important in respecting and providing children food to pick from according to their wishes.

These American strengths are the weaknesses in the French system.

In the French system there are no food choices (only one single menu), vegetarian meals are prohibited, there are no direct laws permitting food substitutes for religious reasons.

The strengths of the French school lunch system are that kids have local fresh food with taste:

  • Local foods on menus because the school budget’s are funded locally. This means meals are fresher and more diverse.
  • No outside influence of food industry. Federal laws prohibit food vending machines on school property.
  • Emphasis on taste and eating slowly. School lunch meal must last at least 30 minutes.

In the American school lunch system, school lunch budgets are allocated via federal funds and school lunch menus are designed to add national food products (that are available through the USDA). The food industry has influence on the lunch menus (see example here for Dominos Pizza). And with the new federal nutrition guidelines emphasizing lower fat foods (like skim and 1% milk), kid’s food pleasure and taste of food as the children knew it has decreased.

If I looked at each school lunch system the way it is now I could conclude:

Taste matters more.

In an article in the New York Times the journalist points out that in America, “classmates are throwing their mandatory helpings on the cafeteria floor.” Kids are bringing their packed school lunches to school and not buying them. Towns like Brick, New Jersey are seeing 10% less revenue this year compared to last year because of less school lunches being sold. Brick, New Jersey schools face privatization if slump in cafeteria sales continue.

In France, kids have no choice. The main school lunch meal with the three other courses is the set menu for the day. There are no allowances for Halal foods, for vegetarian menus, for Kosher foods or just another choice for the main dish. While the emphasis in France is on local and fresh, sometimes the food is just a bit too adult: veal liver and gizzard salad?!

Perhaps France could teach America a thing or two about ‘Léducation au goût (learning about taste) and America could teach France about the importance of freedom of choice, religion and respecting a child’s ethical decision to eat a vegetarian diet.

What do you think? Shout out your thoughts below in “Leave a Reply” section. They will be published and responded to.

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4 Responses to French School Lunch Compared to American School Lunch: Taste Matters

  1. ~ The Lady in Red ~ December 26, 2012 at 20:57 #

    With regard to skim milk being served with lunches at American schools, my daughter does not like the taste of it. She says it is too watered down. I can understand that. I serve whole milk at home. Neither she or I are overweight as a result.

    Instead, if she buys lunch at school, she opts for the juice or water, which circumvents the school lunch program’s attempt to give her some calcium and vitamin D in her diet when she does by lunch. So in my opinion, by them cutting out the “fat” (which naturally occurs in dairy products), they are essentially cutting out milk from her lunch, because they cut out the taste. According to her, many of her friends feel the same way about low fat and no fat milk and don’t select it to drink at lunchtime as a result. No one has ever become obese from drinking 8 oz. of whole milk with their lunch every day. Our bodies do need some good fats, too. I really don’t think that whole milk should be the target of lunch “improvement”. It’s not a bad thing. Maybe they should try targeting Domino’s Pizza instead!

    As a result of the decline in taste in American lunches, my daughter and her classmates are buying lunch less often in school, too. In this regard, I am thankful that as an American student she is allowed to bring lunch from home. The school lunches offered are packed with preservatives, non-fresh produce, and tasteless options for drinks most of the time.

    That said, I’m really not sure if a lunch can be “too adult” for a child. I think as adults we assume sometimes that children will only like simple items such as some that are on kids menus in restaurants: pasta, burgers, chicken nuggets, sandwiches, and pizza. If we limit their palettes at a young age, I think we are doing them a disservice. If we allow them to try more complex foods that “adults” eat, I believe that there will be a good portion of the under 18 population that actually will enjoy these kinds of foods, as are sometimes served in French schools. I have always allowed my daughter the option to order off of adult menus at restaurants and she really does enjoy the broader selection offered. Additionally, when I prepare meals at home, I don’t make her something “kid friendly”. She eat the same meal as everyone.

    I do think American schools should follow the French schools’ lead and allow children at least 30 minutes to eat their lunch. My daughter is given 20 minutes to “chow down”, where as much as 10 minutes can be spent waiting on line to buy lunch if she chooses to do so. Many times she doesn’t have enough time to finish eating her meal as a result. 🙁
    ~ The Lady in Red ~ recently posted..Designers and Other Creative Professionals Invited to Enjoy an Evening of Fine Wine, Refreshments and Private Showroom Tours at the American Antiques Company

    • mbrighton December 27, 2012 at 22:08 #

      Brava! Well said again, Lady in Red! Lucky daughter you have…good mom you are!


  1. Mary Brighton - December 18, 2012

    {Latest article} Lots of choices in American school lunch program, lots of local food and diversity on French…

  2. Suzanne Saxe-R, Ed.D - December 18, 2012

    RT @mbrighton66 French School Lunch Compared to American School Lunch: Taste Matters: So many food choices in Am…

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