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French School Lunch Compared to American School Lunch:Vegetarianism


Ecole Communale=Public School

This article is one of five in a theme series comparing French school lunch programs and menus to American school lunches. If you are interested in reading the first article, click on “France versus America: Choices.”

Vegetarianism is a legitimate dietary choice, but is not permitted on French school lunch menus

This article would be easy to write. All I need to do is write two sentences:

There are no vegetarian school lunch meal options in France. In America most schools incorporate a vegetarian menu.

But there is more to this story…

In increasing numbers, people are adapting their diets to include eating less meat or to cut meat completely from their eating plan. For both adults and children, a vegetarian diet can be healthy, nutritionally adequate and is ecologically sustainable. It would seem logical (and fair) that in most Western countries a vegetarian school lunch menu option is available for children who are vegetarians.

The French school lunch program is an exception to logic and equality

France has a deep culture based on food traditions and culinary techniques, taste education and fresh farm picked foods. This isn’t going to change in the immediate future. France, as a nation, puts much effort to keep their food reputation at a high level .

But why can’t a French chef scolaire (school chef) put a vegetarian main dish on the school lunch menu from time to time? The French school chefs do adapt their school menus to meet other food trends: eating organic or less GMO (genetically modified foods) are two examples.

This is the fact: the new French school lunch laws are outlined in a way that a school lunch program cannot legally have a vegetarian meal on the menu because the protein requirements cover only animal products. See “Vegetarian Lunches Banned In French Schools?”

No vegetarian main meals allowed.

There is controversy over this decret, but for the moment, only animal proteins for main meal sticks as the law in French school cantines. Even Sir Pau McCartney and other environmental groups have spoken out against this backward thinking. Read the review of the press for several articles on this subject here, “Review of the press for French non vegetarian school menus.”

The French culture misunderstands vegetarianism

In most parts of France, vegetarianism is not widely accepted as something that is ‘normal.’  (You can read “Being a Vegetarian in France” about my daughter’s face to face experience with eating rabbit). French chefs have a difficult notion of what vegetarian is because of their classical training in a French cooking school. Ask for a vegetarian meal at a typical French restaurant and you may find your plate filled with vegetables and rice served with a meat based sauce.

Most American school lunch menus do include a vegetarian option

In America school aged vegetarians are lucky. Children have the choice and option to eat non meat proteins. There are some schools, like Fort Collins, Colorado (highlighted below) that do a great job to provide daily veggie options.

But if you are a vegetarian school child living in France and you must eat lunch at school, (rather than going home for the two-hour lunch break), high chances you will leave the school cafeteria hungry.

And I believe that, in the name of equality, this is wrong.

So in the area of food trends and serving vegetarians…America wins. Here is a more concrete example looking at French and American school lunch menus at two specific points in 2010 and 2012.

School lunch menus from Fort Collins, Colorado and Albi, France from 2010 and 2012.

Fort Collins, Colorado, November 2010

Big Daddy’s Cheese Pizza or Chicken Patty Sandwich on Wheat Bun or Turkey Cheese Wrap

Green Beans, Leafy Greens, Baby Carrots and Cucumbers

Melons and Pineapple Chunks

Served with half pint of milk

Albi, France, November 2010

Lamb’s Lettuce with Apple Cubes in Vinaigrette

Fish Filet with Hollandaise Sauce (1) and Wheat Salad (2)

Soft Cheese

Fruit Salad served in its own Syrup

Served with slices of baguette and water

(1) Hollandaise sauce is an emulsion of butter and egg yolk with a bit of lemon juice, salt and white pepper.

(2) Wheat Salad is whole grain wheat, usually pre-cooked and resembles rice or risotto.

Fort Collins, November 2012

Veggie Lasagne OR Cheeseburger OR Uncrustable PB&J

Green Beans

Albi, France, November 2012

Green salad with Avocado, Surimi, Endives, Grapefruit with a vinaigrette

Chicken sausages

Aligot cheese and Whole apple

 So Which School Lunch Menu is More Trendy?

(If the kids eat the lunch and feel satisfied that is a trend in the right direction, n’est-ce pas?)

I think that both town do a fantastic job on both school menus. However, here are my thoughts (and yours?):

  • Fort Collins offers two vegetarian choices for 2012 menus. Although uncrustable PB& J is not what I consider a great main meal choice, it is something that I think most American kids know and like. The veggie lasagna sounds good. But what happened to fresh fruit and serving green beans with PB&J?
  • The first course with the salad with grapefruit at Albi, France for 2012 sounds fresh, appetizing and even something that kids would love. Bravo!
  • Both menus from 2010 are quite presentable. While Fort Collins provided a good round of choices (almost too many) the side dishes sound appealing.
  • The menu from Albi, France in 2010 also presents itself with a fresh first course. First courses must be the chef’s specialty!

While Albi, France uses its first courses in a trendy fashion, Fort Collins provides a daily vegetarian option. For kids that are vegetarian, eating in the American school lunch program (or in another country that offers school vegetarian options) is a big plus that is lacking in France. C’mon France, get with the program!

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comment section below.

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Note: for more information on French school lunch menus there is a website devoted to this subject: Karen Le Billon, French School Lunch Menus

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  1. Mary Brighton - December 6, 2012

    {Latest Article} My kids are not vegetarians and 'lucky' for that. In France, vegetarian school lunch meals are…

  2. Suzanne Saxe-R, Ed.D - December 6, 2012

    RT @mbrighton66 French School Lunch Compared to American School Lunch:Vegetarianism: It used to be trendy to eat…

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