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 ‘L‘éducation 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.
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