French Tasting Week and School Lunch Menus: A Natural Connection
This past week in France it was the 25th anniversary of the Semaine du Goût (or in English called Tasting Week). This is a week-long exploration that encourages kids and adults to discover new foods and drinks, a movement to keep the education of taste ‘alive’, especially in children.
In France, Semaine du Goût activities are supported on a national level and also within the context of the local school lunch menus. And upon reflection, we can understand that this link between tasting new foods incorporated in the school lunch meals can support a positive emphasis on food education, taste and healthy eating.
Eating new foods and supporting taste education during school hours is a opportunity and safe environment to explore new tastes and encourage a varied diet.
In this article I will show you an example of how a national program on taste education can be incorporated on a local level (in this example in the school lunch program). This may give you inspiration to suggest activities to encourage children’s taste education where you live.
Does the taste of food matter to children?
Do you think the taste of food matters much to children? If a child really likes the taste of food will they eat more of it? (You are probably nodding your head, thinking-duh-of course!)
Why ‘teach’ children about taste? Is it something that needs to be learned? And what really is the taste of food for children? Is taste liking salt and fat: how hot french fries and salt hit their tongue? Or is taste connected to familiar dishes that most kids enjoy eating like chicken nuggets and pizza or comfort food served at home?
Or for children, is tasting their food an involuntary act? A habit of opening their mouth and putting in the food that their brain says this will taste and this tastes good?
If a child learns about taste and has an appreciation of what is taste, could that child be more open to eating a variety of foods?
Perhaps children have an appreciation of how foods taste, but being open to tasting more foods is something the kids will do when they have learned to taste more consciously and to have experiences of different tastes on their tongue.
Differences between French and American school lunch menus: Taste or Choice
In America, children are offered choices of food on school lunch menus, and because of this, the emphasis on making the food tastier with using fresh local products, adding sauces and herbs and cooking with more healthy methods is more limited due to cost and food production restraints.
In France, there is more emphasis on taste, freshness and variety on the school lunch menus, but on the other side, there is no choice on what the children can eat (they are served the basic 3 course lunch). The menu is pre-fixed and there are no substitutions except for religious reasons (pork for Muslims).
This answer on what is better: choice or taste may rely on the culture. In America we have more choices but less quality (in general in the school lunch menus). In France, the choices are much less but what is served is higher quality.
In your opinion, what is the better option?
Example of a French School Lunch Menu During Tasting Week
(from Pau, France)
This is the public school lunch menu where I live in Pau, France. The week (semaine) of Monday (lundi) to Friday (vendredi) 13-17 October is the semaine du gout.
Here are some of the offerings for the week, translated into English:
- Blanquette de veau: (Veal stew)
- Rôti de porc au sirop d’érable: (Roasted pork with sauce of maple syrup)
- Haricot vert fondant: (Melting green beans)
- Duo de carotte à l’orange: (Mix of carrot with orange flavor)
- Poulet à la vanille: (Chicken with vanilla sauce)
- Beignets de salsifis: (Radish savory donuts)
- Rix 3 couleurs : (3 colored rice)
This is the menu during Semaine du Goût, but it is typical for what is served for most of the year. You can see that there is an emphasis on adding taste (vanilla, maple syrup) with offering unusual foods (radishes, three-colored rice, mix of carrots and orange).
For children who do not like these foods, there are no other option that day to substitute with another food, like you would have the choice to do in America. Therefore, French children are ‘encouraged’ at a young age to taste, try, appreciate because there are no substitutions with something else they might like better.
A Practical Approach to Connecting Semaine du Goût to the School Menus
As of this article’s publication time, this year’s 2014 Semaine du Goût news bulletin was not published online. But each year the Pau school lunch chefs and menu development staff publish a guideline to the parents and teaching staff to support the tasting week’s menu.
Here is a screen shot /bulletin from last year’s 2013 French tasting week -Semaine du Goût in Pau, France.
We can look at a snapshot of Mercredi (Wednesday) October 16th: the children are served a cold shredded carrot salad for first course, small cubes of salmon with a cream sauce, leeks, thin filet of ground veal, mushroom and bacon risotto, and to finish: fresh grapes.
And the commentary for this day? “A cream sauce, with a small taste of finely minced leeks, to accompany the tender and soft risotto. The meal finishes with sweet touch of fresh grapes from Moissac.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds really delicious!
Do you think we have some things to learn from the French way they encourage taste during this week and on a wider scale, at school? Do you feel it is possible to emphasis taste better in American school menus and in other local environments, still while keeping the choice option that is common in the American culture?
Would love to hear your thoughts and tips on how you encourage taste in your children!
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