French School Lunch

Continuing our theme of why the gilet jaunes are on the street….they know France had a good thing and they want it back, or at least as much as they can get it back. And they know Macron getting rid of the wealth tax is proof of his neoliberal/favor the rich intentions. And rather than wrinkle our noses at the French tendency to go to the barricades, we might instead have a look at some of the mainstays of French life.

As Michael Olenick said by e-mail:

They added a new feature to the online school grade system, the lunch menu.

This is a French public school — government-run. Compare it to Trump serving burgers and fries at the White House. It’s not cherry-picked: it’s this week’s lunch menu for the middle-school.

Granted, any food sounds a lot better in French than English but this seems a lot better than the US school lunches (fried nuggets and chunks).

Here are key points from a story in The Local, The French eating habits the world should learn from:

Fixed meal times and no snacks

The French have always stuck to three meals a day and generally don’t do food outside these set meals. Children usually have a small snack or goûter after school – a piece of fruit or a cake – but this is limited to a specific time, and adults generally don’t snack.

For the French it’s OK to be hungry between these three meal times and it doesn’t mean raiding the fridge or going out to buy chocolate….

Lunch more important than dinner

Eating together

The reason why the three meals a day regime lives on is because the French like to eat together. And that’s not just families, it goes for work colleagues too. While in the UK or the US, a colleague would likely say “Just popping out for a sandwich”, in France your colleagues might see that as strange, sad, or even rude….

Smaller portion sizes

Many studies have shown that if we are given more food, we eat it – regardless of whether we are already full….

No children’s menu

Restaurants in Anglo countries serve up cheap but not so nutritious meals like burgers and hot dogs to kids, but French children are expected to eat the same food as adults.

This instills healthy habits from an early age and encourages them to be more open to trying new foods – few allowances are made for ‘picky eaters’ as French parents teach healthy eating as a skill to be taught from a young age. Even in schools, healthy lunches are a priority and three-course, balanced meals are de rigueur in canteens.

Fresh fruit and veg

Traditional French cuisine relies on fruit, vegetables and meat either grown at home or from local farms….

Eat at the table

Here it’s far less common to see people eat a meal at their desks or slumped in front of the TV.

Take your time

One study from 2010 revealed the French spend two hours and 22 minutes each day eating….

Fruit for dessert

The French may love their patisseries, but treats like eclairs or sugary cakes are usually reserved for special occasions.

All I can remember of my school lunches are sloppy Joes and fish stick sandwiches, neither of which I liked much.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    Cricky. Trump derangement syndrome infects everything.

    Malnutritious school lunches predate Trump.

    Serve fast food = bad optics
    Serve surf and turf during the shutdown = bad optics.

    Ps, McDonald’s is the largest food chain in France as (relatively) low cost and convenience Trump nutrition. Love of fat, salt and sugar is universal.

  2. tegnost

    My sis in law is french and when her mom visits it’s a real treat. The best food I ever had and they eat like that all the time. Also, we have have ice cream for desert, they break out the cheeses (yes, plural) but watch out, one more bite of cheese, one more sip of wine, one more bite of cheese, one more more sip of wine,…you can see where this is going…her dad would drink rose (he would call it a blended wine) for lunch. Also walking. They walk every day, which I believe also brings a social aspect in because you talk to people while you’re out walking. they described their home in lyon by saying all the villages are a walking distance apart, our “villages” are a driving distance apart. They practiced coppicing and have a real garden that provides lots of the basics. An enviable lifestyle, no question.

    1. John A

      Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France.
      However, I beg to differ on the walking front. In my village in Hérault, people drive to as close to the local shops as possible and queue for a space or cause a jam rather than either walking from home or using a car park 50-100 metres away. They often leave the engine running when going into the shop as well.
      All the shops close for a long lunch from 12.30 to 4.30, then open to 7.30 (although the Carrefour supermarket stays open all day, best time to go is between 1 and 3 as it is deserted then!).
      A lot of people still keep chickens as well.

      1. Bugs Bunny

        In the tony Paris suburb where this rabbit lives, we walk mostly everywhere in about a 1.5km radius though there are some freaks who will drive 500m to the market and bark out an order for a chicken or a kilo of tomatoes from the curb. Funny.

        French lunch menus both in school and in work cantines are really good for the most part though they hew to tradition. Couscous is about as far afield as they’ll go.

  3. Anonymous

    You can easily find US public school menus online and they’re not that different from the French menu posted here. Green beans? Cheese sticks? Cole slaw? Fruit salad? All standard cafeteria fare in the US, except maybe cole slaw nowadays.

    The real issue is the quality of ingredients and the preparation and presentation. But I have no idea how good that is in France today, either.

    Here is the menu for the city of Boston high schools:

    As a former school teacher, what grinds my gears is when people discuss schools by referring to when they were in school 20-60 years ago, as commenters are doing with this discussion of school menus. Would you have a discussion on technology, health care, or anything else based on decades old anecdotes?

    1. Yan

      Excuse me but this menu looks like you just walked in into a tgi Friday’s (lots of burgers,french bread pizza,crispy baked chicken nuggets, “caesar salad…). I really don’t know where you can see similarities with the French school menu. Also, having gone to both French lycees and America middle schools I can tell you both the portions and the preparation are wildly different.

  4. anon in so cal

    “On a recent afternoon at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton, Calif., students sat at picnic tables and bit into McDonald’s cheeseburgers, Subway sandwiches and Quiznos flatbreads. They didn’t have to travel far to get their fast-food fix for lunch. In fact, they didn’t even have to leave campus. The burgers and sandwiches were available right inside their school cafeteria…..

    For Castro and other meal program directors, increasing the lunch count — the number of student purchases — is key to staying in business. Schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program receive federal reimbursements for every meal they serve, along with agricultural commodities donated by the Department of Agriculture. That allows them to offer free and reduced-price meals to low-income students. But the government support only covers about half of the expenses for a typical cafeteria. To cover labor and facilities costs and keep their programs in the black, food service supervisors turn to students with lunch money.

    The only way to keep the lunchroom running, then, is to keep students buying. And when brand-name items appear on the menu, “the kids will line up a mile long,” said Amy Hedrick, the food service supervisor in the Scotts Valley Unified School District in California.

    Hedrick used to offer a generic pizza for lunch, and 250 to 300 students would line up in the cafeteria. Now, when she dishes out slices of Round Table at her elementary schools, she serves up to 400 kids”

    Somewhat relatedly:

    “France’s Plat du Jour: Frozen Meals

    Rising Costs for Labor and Food Have Many Chefs Turning From Fresh Ingredients to Premade Dishes
    By Gabriele Parussini

    Updated May 17, 2013 8:15 p.m. ET

    ELANCOURT, France—When Jean-Luc Madec opened his restaurant west of Paris more than 20 years ago, he would get up at 3 a.m. and race to the city’s wholesale market to select the best fresh food.

    Nowadays, he can sleep in. With high labor costs eating in to his bottom line, Mr. Madec uses frozen ingredients –and even complete main courses– for the dishes served at Les Templiers”

    1. Bugs Bunny

      I’d eaten at Les Templiers before this story came out and at the time, I was very disappointed in the food – but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong with it besides a lack of flavor.

      It’s in a lovely old Knights Templar building with a park around it. Great to just visit and have a coffee (which I suspect is probably a Nespresso).

  5. elissa3

    Michael Moore covered this in one of his more clever movies, “Where to Invade Next” (2015). I invited a fairly hard core “conservative” to watch this and he admitted afterwards that he was impressed. The movie deals with the better ideas from (mostly) European countries. I heartily recommend it, particularly to the vast majority of Americans who have never lived abroad.

    1. abynormal

      I had it on for background noise UNTIL HE WENT INTO THE DUCATI BABY MAKING HOME. Everyone was smiling, vacations mandatory, 2 hour breaks and no turnover. MHO, Best bike EVER…now they’ve sold to Volkswagen and they just about sold them off till the bean counter showed the crust the only cash cow IS DUCATI.

      NOTHING like a DUCATI on the Tail of the Dragon…my next venture will be The Back of the Dragon…wish me FUN

      1. Phacops

        Have FUN! TOTD is great . . . but don’t end up on their tree of shame. My last long trip was to take the twistiest roads in canyons and across mountain passes in Colorado on my Concours. TOTD is an appetizer for some of those routes.

        So, VW raised Ducati for $$$$. Sorta’ like the treatment that Mercedes gave Chrysler so that Fiat was a step up for them by insisting on some better quality build and interiors. Hmmmm . . . methinks that German companies treat all others like resource colonies and cash cows.

      2. Jim A.

        US 129? I was there a couple of years ago for the solar eclipse,. I had no idea that it was a “thing.” I am real glad that I managed to fit my backpack into the trunk of my convertible so that I didn’t have to drive the van.

  6. Duke of Prunes

    I had the pleasure of eating at a corporate cafeteria in France for a few weeks. Aside from have no table waitstaff, the food was high end restaurant quality.

    Some of the big tech companies are definitely upping their game with respect to cafeterias, but you still have the typical us culture of “food is fuel” – get to go and eat at your desk or scarf it down asap. – when people do linger over lunch, it’s often to virtue signal about how “healthy” they are eating vs just enjoying the food and the company of other humans.

  7. jake

    As a recent grad in Paris I used to sneak into the University cafeterias. Apart from being very cheap, the food would qualify as gourmet by American standards. It wasn’t shy of fat or butter, and yet absolutely nobody at the tables, quite a crowd, was ever overweight.

    1. SKM

      the French and the Italians eat lots of fat, saturated, and in Med areas of course olive oil. They don`t have high rates of heart disease (despite also as noted above not generally being great walkers). This is because saturated fat has nothing to do with heart disease and eating in very relaxed convivial conditions almost always with great enjoyment is a huge de-stressor and stress plays a large role in disease esp CVD. On top of all that there is growing evidence of the harm of constant snacking so yet another factor that these cultures get right – the French and the Italians (typically eat meals, taking time and trouble) do NOT snack.
      I`ve lived and worked in both countries, currently in Italy (in an olive grove, since the 80`s), when children come to our lengthy meals they eat what we do from a very early age. A recent new friend called Sofia was tucking into heavy fat Tuscan sausages, octopus and pasta (ie whatever we were eating) as soon as she was sitting at table eating solid food, this is the norm rather than an exception here. She is now 6 and very slim and healthy!! There`s no mystery here!!!

      1. oliverks

        In Italy I have found 3 things about children eating food.

        1) Children go to restaurants, even fairly fancy restaurants, and it is considered normal.

        2) Restaurants will often make food a bit more tailored to children (read less fancy), but it always fresh, tasty, and well executed.

        3) Children are expected to eat with adults and be at the table for 2 hours.

      2. fajensen

        Totally correct.

        High Sugar intake and little exercise is what gives cardiovascular decease (especially the industrial sugars, eating fruit, which has sugar in it, is something the body was “built for”). We also need to experience hunger to calibrate the insulin response of our bodies (daily by not eating for 12-16 hours or following the 5-2 diet). Finally, the circadian clock is hard-coded into every cell and following it’s schedule with respect to sleeping and eating seems to be critical to long-term health. Modern life is trying murder us!

    2. Enquiring Mind

      Memories of the venerable Restau U, the university restaurant or food service accessible by students. Back in the day, the joke was that the government had a big potato surplus so those were on the menu for lunch and dinner. The fries were tasty, as were the roast potatoes, but the mashed potatoes left a lot to be desired. All that and no ketchup in sight, or needed.

      The mystery meat was often horse, not beef, and us hungry guys identified the vegetarians and sat at their tables to get an extra serving. The Dijon mustard helped make more palatable the tougher cuts. Salads were just big pieces of lettuce with a blob of vinaigrette in the bottom of the serving bowl.

      Since in France, sex roles were apparent. The guys retrieved the baskets of French bread and tossed the salads. Nobody thought that was unusual, it just worked and people got fed.

      Vive la France et bon appétit!

    1. The Rev Kev

      Have a copy of that “Supersize Me” as it was so amazing. I noticed that in the public school where the food was heated-up frozen food provided by a corporation that it was all light brown in colour. The whole row was different foods but it was all lighte brown. Decided then to always be wary of any food of that colour. And it was more expensive than the healthy foods provided by the school shown in that video.

      1. Edward

        Are we worse off or better off then when “The Jungle” was published? My guess is worse. At least the rats in the food were natural.

  8. David

    Unfortunately, things are changing. Indeed, they have been changing for some time. Families eat together less often, sales of fast food have exploded, and obesity is becoming a real problem among the young, who gorge themselves on exactly what American children eat. If you stand in a supermarket queue in what the French call a “popular ” area, you’ll be horrified at what people are buying. In turn, this is because many women no longer know how to cook because they have not been taught. Now to be fair, these are problems that largely affect the poorer classes and immigrants, so they don’t really count. So once again, you have two different countries: one of the gastronomic tradition, fine restaurants, middle-class dinner parties and canteens in private schools and large companies, the other in the poorer areas where even fresh food may be difficult to find, and the only restaurants are take-away Kebabs. One facet of this is that there is a substantial (and increasing) reaction, in the form of movement to preserve local traditions and specialities, and to support local agriculture, in the face of what is seen as globalisation and the great EU bulldozer flattening everything in its path.
    It also depends where you live. In Sarkozy’s old fief, the Hauts-de-Seine outside Paris (the richest department in France), Sarko’s boys decided to save money by contractorising school lunches, which had previously been prepared on site by real cooks. They awarded the contract to some faceless multinational, which brought in fast food from outside and heated it up. From what I’ve see, it’s disgusting. Of course, the parents of those who made the decision, and wealthier parents generally, send their children to private schools which still do things the old way.

    1. newcatty

      Unfortunate, indeed. Now, it’s sounding like “Let them eat junk (fast food).” No wonder French “profiferal” people are in the streets.

  9. Arizona Slim

    What if kids started learning how to grow some of their own food at school? And, after harvest, learning how to prepare what they’ve grown — and then serve it to others?

    1. lyman alpha blob

      They do that at my kid’s elementary school, albeit on a very small scale. The kids plant a veggie garden in the spring, the kids and parents watch over it in the summer and someone picks the veggies when they’re ripe. Then the 5th grade class uses it to prepare a meal for the 4th grade class in the fall when school starts up again.

      This would be easier to do on a larger scale if school were actually open during the growing season [unfortunately we can’t all be year round AZ gardeners ;) ] but at least it’s one meal where they don’t have to eat the godawful nuggets and chunks.

      1. Rod

        Not 9 mos ago: on some radio cooking show featuring ‘ the French middle school lunch program’ in the sw of the country, I heard the most inspirational story of how to do children and lunch right.
        Seemed as though the head count was in the less than a few hundred but certainly more than one hundred.
        To start, for their daily lunch, this local ms was the small end of the funnel for a whole local/ regional agricultural production network–from the greens on their own grounds to eggs and bakery from the town to meats, dairy and cheeses from w/in 100km. They were about 50km from some part of the coast and got fish there.
        The facility maintenance helped with the schools own garden/greenhouse
        but all kids of all abilities and all grades really were tasked to make it work. It was written and integrated into the curriculum in various and creative ways, some too cool for school.
        Same deal with the serving: oldest classes serving younger first-and after a rest rotating into some appropriate supporting role. Like stripping the linen tablecloths, or taking up the china or silverware or wiping down the individual tables and their 8 chairs. Even dish washing. All that was in the curriculum also but not teacher supervised.
        Cooking and prep were handled by the schools full time chef and assistant assisted by a daily rotating older class. In the curriculum.
        But two things really slapped me: after being informing the reporter of the cost (like a French Big Mac per head) the part time local kitchen help said something like well if the kids don’t eat well how will they learn or grow well–and one of the parents (invited to lunch by her kid) responded to a question with something like well how else do they learn how to cook and be responsible adults.
        I don’t know French, but she sounded like one does explaining the obvious.
        Kids said it was fun, broke up the day/week variously, and helped them growing up.
        Our future needs to go this way, no?

  10. Mac na Michomhairle

    French agriculture has been, up until very recently, turbocharged, cranking out mountains of foodstuff; ‘green oil’ (in terms of export dollars), and the food has been more likely than any other western or northern or southern European produce to contain high levels of pesticide etc residues. In the last 30 years, most of the ground and drinking water in Brittany has come to enormously exceed safe levels of nitrites (deriving from nitrogen fertilizer and intensive animal production), and that’s just one of many situations.

    The image of France as a low-key, artisanal, sane society is inaccurate since the 1950s, except for certain elements who are in a position to prize those things still; and for a few places with a back-to-the-land or tourist ambience. I knew former middle/working class Parisians who had been devoted to the city but had moved out in disgust because the city had been completely yuppified, and this was 30 years ago. The gilets jaunes partly reflect this disintigration of rural society and replacement by an economized structure.

    Every place is dealing with similar problems, though some parts of the world still have greater resources in terms of memory and awareness with which to deal with them.

  11. Unna

    My kid’s HS in a small town in BC had a policy that everyone could eat breakfast, with or without money, no questions asked. If you wanted breakfast and had money you put what you wanted into a jar, and got eggs, toast, juice, tea, fruit, etc. If you had only a dime and you could put that in you were expected to, if you had a dollar or more, put that in, and of course, no money you put in none and still ate. No records were kept. All the money along with contributions from parents went into a fund to buy more breakfast food. This program was not just targeted at poor kids, but also at wealthier kids whose “busy professional” parents rushed out the door in the morning without feeding their kids. The HS performs very well academically. I have no idea what the Province’s involvement in this might or might not have been.

  12. Launchpad Mcquack

    You should see the lunch my kids get at their public schools in Japan. Fruits and vegetables are sourced locally. They have a professional nutritionist set the menu monthly. Cooks on-site cooking fresh meals, including freshly baked breads. If kids cannot eat a certain food, due to allergies or some other reasonable reason, they can donate it to a “group” pile from where other kids who might still be hungry can take it. My son attended public elementary school in the U.S., I once visited him for lunch and I was absolutely shocked with his lunch. To call it dog food would be an insult to dog food. The food was served out of a gym. They served microwaved burgers, hot dogs, pizzas and “burritos”. His school, by the way, was in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the SF Bay Area, a place way to expensive for me to purchase a home. I was shocked and could not understand how it was possible that the lunch was garbage. Naturally, most of the kids were throwing their food in the trash. Now that I live outside the U.S. and see how other people live and how governments function, I can tell you that America is absolutely broken across nearly all levels society, social services and government. Everything we do is ass backwards and driven by decision that do not, in any way, have the interest of most people in the society in mind. There is no one solution that can solve our problems, but I have the sense that hyper-capitalism, greed, poor education, and loss of civility have something to do with it. For this reason, I have the feeling that things in the U.S. will get a lot worst before they get better. I hope that I am wrong because I’m dreading the day when I have to go back. With all of that in mind, nothing will ever change unless as a collective group of Americans we start to demand better.

  13. cm

    Camas Davis travelled to France to learn their butchering techniques in a community that supported each other and grew extremely high quality food, and wrote a book about it.

    An excerpt from an interview :

    The Chapolards raise their own pigs on grain they grow themselves, and they own a nearby co-op slaughterhouse. The family gathers together to butcher the animals, and they turn every part of the pigs into hams, loins and the more obscure delicacies that Americans balk at: head cheese, blood sausage, trotters. They then sell the products at market.

    I’ve attended some of her classes, and the book is an interesting read (the parts in France, not so much in Portland…) highlighting how quality farming is still possible.

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