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school lunch in Paris, school lunch in Minnesota

Posted by on Apr 19, 2010 in Blog Posts | 3 comments

This delightful cultural bit came into my hands recently about school lunches in Paris.

Basically it explains that in France, the children are given from-scratch, challenging and varied meals in the public schools. No frozen foods, no menu repeated in a 32 day cycle. I have family living in France, and this is indeed their experience. Kids sit for up to an hour, have multi-course meals or go home for lunch. The daycare co-op served lamb and ratatouille, not mac n cheese. There is nothing wrong inherently with mac n cheese, but these kids live in a culture that values food, values the experience of eating and honors the children with spending the time and effort to cook and plan a variety of good tasting foods-and the children eat it. (Mostly)
Primary French - French family eating breakfast
Contrast that with the experiences of many children in Minnesota and America. Lunch shifts might start at 10:30. One parent described a scene where the children are all dressed in their snow-suits, ready for their 15 minute recess but swing by the cafeteria for lunch first. By the time the kids get their meals, they may only have 5 or 10 minutes to eat (not to mention how hot they must be all bundled up!)
Regardless of what is being served, does this scenario allow children to have a calm and pleasant meal? (The how of feeding.) Does it allow them time to check in with their bodies to see if they are hungry or full? Do they learn to gobble the food quickly, and as much as possible because they won’t eat again until school is done, maybe 5 or more hours later? Or are they so distracted that they might eat very little.
There is a lot of attention now (which is good) about improving the quality and variety of school lunches, but think also about the environment, the setting, what we are teaching children about food and whether we are supporting them in the best way as they form their relationships with food and eating.
M currently is in a Montessori program where the children sit at tables (they have set) with real plates, silverware, cups and napkins. They get about thirty minutes for meals which parents pack. I have to say I like this set-up, and wonder how this will change as her schools change…
What have your school meal experiences been? Could you eat in a snowsuit?
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  1. Kate

    I spent some time in Australia for school. We had an hour for lunch, we could sit with our friends eat a leisurely lunch and still have time to do other things, it was such a huge contrast to American schools where you spend a long time in line just to inhale the food and off to the next class. (This explictly refers to high school, though elementary students also had long lunch times. What I don't know was if this was just a private school thing were I was at, or if it applied to all schools.)

    I can't say the meals were particularly exciting, I was boarding student and we had cold sandwiches and Tuesdays and Thursdays, meat pies and pasties on Mondays and Wednesdays and hot dogs on Fridays. I do think they give breakfast and dinners more consideration.

    Beverages were so bad quality and taste wise, I don't even want to talk about them, but that was back in the late 80s, I don't know if it's changed since then.

  2. cecile

    Well, I grew up in France, and I remember seating down for lunch, sure. But no 5-course meals served by waiters… that must be in a very rich area, I think it said Vincennes ? In my school, we had a serve-yourself sort of "cantine", but we had to take an entree (first course in French), meat and vegetable, and a dessert or cheese. Then we sat at tables and ate, but NOT in silence, that sounds more like a monastery ! Again, the article you cite must be about a private school, I guess. And it did not last one hour, either. Not 15 minutes, but definitely not one hour. Probably somewhere in between. After lunch, we had recess for about one hour in elementary school, a lot less in high school, where it is closer to here, probably.

  3. Ines

    This is very timely, Katja. Thank you for bringing attention to this issue. As we, here in the US, continue to pay attention mostly to the WHAT of eating it is so refreshing to hear some about the HOW.