Monday, December 15, 2014

the Paris school menu this week - bon appétit

 In case you were wondering what Parisian school children eat for lunch - and who hasn't since they seem to be born 'gourmands' - here's this weeks school menu for les enfants in the 8th arrondissement of Paris this week.
 Even the three-year-olds sit down at tables with knives and forks and spoons and real plates and are fed the same kind of food their working papas and mamans are probably eating at the brasserie on their lunch breaks. The menu is posted on the school gate (and now online)  every week so maman can ask how the endives-au-jambon were and what fruit they ate. Parents are expected to read it, and avoid serving any repeat food for dinner. Food and eating are considered part of the academic curriculum, starting in nursery school. A child’s palate is as worthy of education as a child’s brain.
There is also no rush. The lunch break lasts a full hour and a half, at least 45 minutes of which involves actual eating. Fresh ingredients– local meats, fruits and vegetables– are used as much as possible.
Other menu items include: ratatouille, grilled fish, cabbage remoulade, sauteed chicken, paté, lentils, assorted cheeses (even stinky ones), sweet potato salad, petit poids, cucumber and chevre salad, and, at least once, escargot.

- Lunch is traditionally the largest meal of the day in France, representing approximately 40% of children’s caloric intake.
-There are no 'kids' foods in French school lunches – the French actively teach kids to like and eat a wide variety of 'adult' food.
- Every child sits down to the same meal – there are no substitutions or multiple choices available to customize the lunch.
-Packed lunches are strongly discouraged for all ages, K-12.

1.  Vegetable starter: leafy green salad or sliced or grated vegetables.
2.  The warm main dish, which includes a vegetable side dish.
3.  Cheese course.
4.  Dessert is fresh fruit four times a week with a sweet treat on the fifth day.

All this is governed by REGULATIONS mandated by the French Ministry of Education
- Municipalities must adhere to strict regulations governing portion sizes, nutritional composition, and cooking methods.
- The minimum time required/allotted for children to sit at the table is at least 30 minutes.
- Children drink water with lunch: there are no other drinks of any kind available at lunch.
- Vending machines and fast food are banned in all schools.
- Twenty different meals are served per month. Schools do not repeat the same dish more than once every month in any given school.
- Over the course of 20 meals (one month), only 4 main dishes and 3 desserts can be high fat (more than 15% fat).
- Vegetables comprise approximately 50% of the overall meal.
- Fried food can only be served four times per month.
- Ketchup is limited to once per week (many don’t serve it at all).
- Schools are not allowed to leave any sauce, mayonnaise, salad dressing, or ketchup available to students to serve themselves freely.

Most schools are built with kitchens and cooking is done on the premises. In some cases, municipalities may have a central kitchen, where food is made for multiple schools and then delivered. Increasingly, however, French schools are contracting out meal preparation to private companies, which is the cause of some controversy in France. However, even where a private company prepares the meals it is the municipality’s responsibility to provide staff to monitor and serve them.
The relevant French law allows municipalities to set their own prices, but also allows for a sliding scale, and caps prices — with the goal of allowing all children to have equal access. Thus, prices vary but in Paris, for example, most families pay about $3.00, the wealthiest families pay $7.00, and the lowest-income families pay $0.20 cents per meal.
Cara- Tuesday bon appétit


  1. I want to enroll in a French elementary school! Healthy food and fledgling gourmands. What could be better. But here in the U.S., such a program--which I would applaud--would bring on the wrath of those who would see too much governmental control in such a lunch program. Others would be highly in favor of the graduated cost. But here--well, look what happened when Mayor Bloomberg banned sodas of more than a certain amount of ounces. Our food industry is very powerful and according to a magazine I subscribe to is out to make addicts not healthy consumers. When whole milk was substituted for chocolate milk in some schools, the students wouldn't drink it so back came chocolate milk.

  2. My children go to a French primary school in a rural area, but the food is very similar. Additionally, at least one day a week is 'bio', so free-range and organic.
    The problem is that my children do sometimes refuse to eat the vegetable which accompanies the meat, while one of them never touches the cheese course. Neither of them are very fond of the salad starter. So they do sometimes leave the table rather hungry.

  3. Vive la France! And VV l'italia. Italian children get similar courses. But as far as I know the schools there don't have such elaborate rules. Each time I went with his mom to pick up my nephew at nursery school, there was a report on the wall of what each child ate, and other info about their day posted. In the USA, we can't have universal pre-K or even bad subsidized food for school lunches because it would mean higher taxes.

    Undernourished children? Not our problem. Taxation? the greatest evil that can befall a society. The people who think this way would be the first to insist that the USA is the greatest country in the world.

  4. As Annamaria has said, it would be considered treasonous to feed children so well in the U.S.

  5. I agree with Barbara -- if only I'd been sent to a French school, I might even have turned up!

    Amazing system, Cara. I'm all in favour of developing a child's palette rather than feeding them TV dinners which are all that seem to be available in kid-sized portions in restaurants.

  6. Not only the exposure to real utensils, sitting down and 'breaking bread' but the principles behind it instills an awareness in children...Marina your kids may ixnay on the veg and cheese but I'm sure they handle it well. My son went to a Montessori school where they had an onsite cook ( the kids and faculty ate the same) and real plates. Spills, breakage etc were handled Montessori style - no big deal!

  7. Great post! I think you should send this info to the Lady in the Big House at 1600 PA Avenue! Our kids in the USA could really use this kind of food! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  8. I remember school day lunches of two starches (one yellow, one white), something gray, and bug juice. That probably explains a lot. Whoops, forgot the Jello with little marshmallows tucked away inside.

    1. I was lucky!! In elementary school, we went home for lunch--walked the three blocks, ate home-made soup or fresh tomatoes and basil with olive oil and mozzarella, with crusty bread. And fruit. And listened to my grandmother's soap opera, "Rosemary, brought to you by wonderful Ivory Snow." Then, we walked back to school. In high school, we brought our lunch. I have a life-long friend who still remembers sharing my eggplant parmigiana sandwiches. The italians and the French KNOW how to raise food snobs.

  9. Oh, to be a school child is France. Is this the menu for schools in poorer areas of Paris or Marseilles?
    What does the school do with children in families that are vegetarians, vegans, or who eat strict Kosher meals if Jewish or Halal food if Muslim.

    Does the school board take these variations into account?

    This is great. As children, my sister and I came home for lunch usually, although we lost the keys a few times. But our lunches were nothing like these incredible meals. We even had Spam. And when I was 11, I figured out what tongue was and refused to eat sandwiches made with it.

    I sure am glad those children are eating this way.

    The right wing, pro-agribusiness forces over here would never allow this. To cut fatty, cholesteral-laden and fried foods in school, never! To take out fast food and vending machines, never.

    In setting up a healthier school lunch program, Michelle Obama was vilified. It's been just bizarre.