Incorporating local foods on school lunch menus is the third article in our series comparing the French to American school lunch program. Interested in learning more about school lunch series? You can read articles one and two here: Choices, Vegetarianism. If you want more information go to the category on ‘School Lunch’ on the top of this page and click there for lots more articles!
The French School Lunch System Encourages Eating Local
Eating local is a hot topic and food trend in America. But it has never been a food trend in France; the French have forever embraced eating local as a normal part of their culture.
The first time I stepped in France (as an ignorant traveler) I was shocked by the amount of open agricultural space and endless fields filled with grapevines, cornstalks, sunflowers. As I traveled around, I saw all the farms growing produce and raising animals for meat, cheese or foie gras. I don’t know why, perhaps my ignorance or young age, but I thought France would be looking like America, just older! The country is old, but that is also one reason it survives as an agricultural country. It has been set up like this from long ago, before cars, before anything! Villages appear every few kilometers intertwined with agriculture, and while cities are full and crowded, just get out and venture away and you will discover regions that promote their own artisan food products and locally grown specialties.
While the French food culture in itself encourages eating local, there is another even bigger reason why the French school system can put locally grown foods on the school lunch menus: the monies for the school lunches are organized within local municipalities, not primarily on a federal level, as they are in America.
It is to a town’s benefit to put the food grown and produced in the region on the school lunch menus. It is a win-win situation. Win for the school kids, win for the local food businesses, win for the local budgets (and win for taste and the environment).
This touch of local shows up repeatedly on school lunch menus from around France. It is no irony that in the French South West region where I live, in the heart of le canard (duck) country, duck and duck products are put on the school lunch menus. Do you know what gizzard salad is? (click on gizzard salad and read the recipe in the article). That is what little Palois (those that live in Pau, France) eat for school lunch!
With Efforts, Local Foods Arrive on Your Child’s American School Lunch Plate
Despite the federal funding for the American school lunch program, there are initiatives to get local (and state) grown food on the school lunch menus. As an example, here is a great program run by the state of Alaska that puts their products right where they should stay: on the plate of Alaskan children’s school lunch dishes.
“Plans are in the works for more Alaska delights, including bison stew, sweet-potato fish sticks and birch syrup instead of refined sugar.” (From the article “Local Alaska Foods Make Their Way onto School Lunch Menus”)
In 2010 and 2012 I investigated school meals from different geographical areas around France and America. Here are two of those menus from Irving, Texas and Nantes, France. In this particular example, in Nantes, France, you find local organic foods on the menu. (see November 2012)
Irving, Texas November 2010
Beef and Cheese Burrito or Crispy Turkey Tacos
Spanish Brown Rice
Lettuce and Tomato Salad
Half pint of milk
Nantes, France, November 2010
Half a Grapefruit
Beef Bourguignon with Small Fried Potatoes
Water to drink and baguette bread slices
Irving, Texas, November 2012
Spaghetti w/Meat Sauce & Bread OR Stix or Turkey Ham OR Deli Turkey Sandwich OR Chef/Veg. Chef Salad w/Bread Stix,
Tossed Salad, Peachy Pear
Low fat or non fat milk
Nantes, France, November 2012
Organic shredded beets
Cauliflower with Béchamel sauce
Tomme cheese and Chocolate eclair
Both American and French school lunch menus do a commendable job to provide variety to the meals.
What I find interesting:
- Irving, Texas has put on foods that have a Mexican influence. Texas is the state that borders Mexico and they have a larger population of kids with this culture eating in the school lunch program. Bravo for including these familiar foods on the menus.
- Even before the recent school lunch nutritional changes (implemented in 2012) Texas was one step ahead. Their side dish choices of tomato and lettuce salad and fruit cocktail are perfectly geared for American kids’ tastes and these are both served in the same meal! Kids in this school are getting close to “5 A day” fruits and vegetables.
- Nantes put a half of grapefruit as the first course. This is a healthy way to start the meal, unless the child rains a whole packet of sugar on top of the fruit, as is commonplace in France.
- Beef bourguignon is a beef stew made with carrots, mushrooms and onions. A perfect complement to potatoes. Stemmed potatoes would be a healthier option, and now with French regulations stating fried foods served no more than four times a month, the chef will have to find a substitute.
- Irving, Texas’s new menu selection in November 2012 is diverse, but having four choices for the main meal might be hard for a young child to know what food choice to take. (see article on Choices for my opinion on offering too many food choices to kids).
- Nantes has organic beets for the first course. This will most certainly be served à la française, with a yummy vinaigrette.
- The cauliflower has a bechamel sauce covering it. Cauliflower is not a vegetable kids particularly like, but it is a power veggie. My view is that serving this food with a small amount of rich sauce will have more children eating more bites of this food than throwing the whole thing away (if you served a steamed cauliflower with no sauce or sauce accompaniment).
- France’s main meal is lunch. The menu is Nantes is quite filling and has 4 courses. The French school lunch meal is supposed to provide 40% of the calories for the day. While I don’t advocate putting a chocolate eclair as the dessert course too often, it is a real pleasure food and well liked by kids (just ask my son!). French kids get minimum 30 minutes to eat their school meals. Finishing up an enjoyable meal with an occasional treat adds to the satiety of eating. Plus, with the two-hour French lunch break kids can go run outside after lunch and work off some of the calories.
And your views?
If your school system doesn’t presently have a local food option for some of the school lunch meals, why not approach the school staff to offer your support in getting this implemented? Even on a sporadic basis, why not?
Has your school system made exemplary areas in putting local or organic food on the menu? Would love to hear about it. Jot me a line below in Leave a Reply section.
For more information on school lunch in France, check out Karen Billon’s website that shows school lunch menus from all around France.
If you are interested in following the latest on nutrition news from around Europe, France and the United States, why not subscribe to BrightonYourHealth Newsletter? You can do so here and receive your free E-report (that is generating a lot of positive feedback) on “Good health from an international perspective.”