Ha! The title made you take a look, didn’t it? But if you have been following this blog for the last couple of months you must (or maybe?) agree…French school lunches ARE IN GENERAL better than American school lunches. We can say this because we really looked, even deeply looked at 30 elementary school lunch menus between two industrialized countries: France and America. We spent the first 23 school days, quite a lot of time in fact, in Toms River, New Jersey and Pau, France; but we also looked at elementary lunch menus in various other big cities in different regions in France and America. We honed in on variety, healthiness, choices, freshness between these two countries. What is the main conclusion?
OVERALL FRENCH SCHOOL LUNCH MENUS ARE BETTER THAN AMERICAN SCHOOL LUNCH MENUS
Well, Americans cannot be the best in everything, right? Haha! Overall, the French have more variety: the menus do not repeat themselves even over 2-3 months time. Healthiness is more key on French school menus: fresher foods, more local foods, more vegetables and fruits offered. But Americans have more choices: there are always 2 main meals to choose from whereas in France you get what is on the menu; the only substitutions are for allergic or religious reasons. However, perhaps some of the food served in France public schools may be a bit too “gourmet” or weird for 3-5 year old palates. We have seen gizzard salad, radishes, goulash and celeriac salad on menus! Could you imagine your young children eating those? Overall though, as a parent of 4 young children, I would be happier to have my kids eating in the French cantine rather than the American one. My kids do eat in the school cafeteria here in France and my main personal complaint? They cannot bring their own packed lunches in to eat. If your child is signed up to eat in the cantine you must pay for that meal and they are served what is on the menu. Your other choice is to go and pick them up at lunchtime and the kids eat at home. In America, at least you can pack your kids lunches.
There is a big debate in America on reforming the public school lunch program. There are celebrities such as Jamie Oliver who are trying to change the type of food that is served to American kids in school. Jamie Oliver has already drummed up change in his native England; no doubt his message will have an impact in America too. There are even lesser known celebrities such as the “Renegade Lunch Lady” who also push for school lunch changes. Renegade Lunch Lady Chef Ann Cooper has reformed the school lunch menus in Boulder Colorado and is trying to do the same throughout other schools. We need it…kids are our future! We must try to provide good healthy meal models for children within a reasonable budget plus offer food choices that are varied yet palatable to children and adolescent tastes. There is no point to serve food to kids if they won’t eat it. That just adds up to more waste in the garbage basket. There is an epidemic of childhood obesity plus other childhood related health issues such as diabetes and poor physical performance due to inactivity. There is much to be done…!
When I started this 30 day look I didn’t expect to be so surprised on what school lunches menus consisted of and at the same time feel motivated to be a part of possible change. Certainly if I lived in America, you can be sure that I would be discussing some of my concerns with the school lunch team to try to make some changes; even if these were only small ones. If I was a parent in Toms River, New Jersey I would be really voicing my concerns. Toms River has a two-week menu rotation, Domino’s Pizza choice every Friday, too much chicken on the menu, too much fried items, not enough vegetables! But all this seems to be an uphill battle…making changes to school lunch menus to reflect more healthy choices, freshness and variety within keeping inside the budget. However the Renegade Lunch Lady has done it…so why not your school district? Want to know some of her secrets? Some of her ideas that have worked? Check out her blog and tune back in here for an article on it soon. But until your school can offer healthy school lunch menus on a daily basis, the alternative is to provide packed lunches. If you are committed to providing healthy packed lunches, ALSO tune in again SOON to get some great ideas on balanced packed meals.
You know, it wasn’t all bad…there were school lunches served in America that were overall quite healthy because the side dishes were healthy. And there were school lunches in France that were not the most healthiest meals…There is the culture in France that surrounds itself by good food, taste, meal discipline and local products. These habits that are in most French households and provide the base for using the school lunch meals as a compliment to good home cooked meals. Yes, if your child learns good food habits at home, they are more likely to choose the healthier options in the school cafeteria. Nuf Said!!! Now, give me your comments especially if you disagree with my article’s title…your thoughts are appreciated!!! Until then, Bon Appetit!