When the public school office of the 6th district of Paris summoned me to a meeting late last year, the tone of urgency in the letter sent me running down the block, into the 19th century courtyard of the town hall and up the narrow stairs to the top floor.
"What does your son eat for lunch?" the woman asked after I ran in breathless. I had no idea what to say. When my son started nursery school last September at the age of 3, I had registered him for the school lunch program. But when he failed...
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It’s a shocking statistic that everyone should be talking about, 1 in every 3 kids in the United States is overweight or obese. What on earth could American children be eating to substantiate this scary statistic?
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This was the question which fueled author Rebeca Plantier’s inquiry into the school lunch programs of the French in her article, What French Kids Eat For School Lunch (It Puts Americans To Shame!). She wanted to know why French kids weren’t fat, and discovered some interesting truths when she compared their school lunches.
What Are French Kids Eating?
Two months in advance, the cantine management staff work alongside a certified dietician to develop a menu that is cautious of sugar intake as well as being sure to include a balanced intake of protein, complex carbs, fruits and vegetables.
Another key difference in French school lunches is that all food is prepared fresh in house. That means no pre-packaged macaroni, pizza, or fruit. All mashed potatoes are mashed in house, all soups are prepared daily. Most processed or prepacked foods contain toxic preservatives or additives which contribute to obesity and other health issues, issues that American children are currently facing. Read more about that HERE.
Where Is The Food Coming From
All of the meats, fruits and vegetables are locally sourced. Although it has not yet become an every day occurrence, the cantine management has implemented organic meals once a month. The only drink offered in school is filtered tap water. Compare this with the array of sugary drinks loaded with high-fructose corn syrup available in American cafeterias, and the obesity crisis begins to make a lot more sense.
Below are pictures of the weekly menu in a French school lunch program. There are only 4 lunches pictured because children do not attend school on Wednesdays in France (follow suit rest of the world?).
First course: Cucumber and tomato salad
Main course: Veal marinated with mushrooms, broccoli, cheese
Dessert: Apple tart
First course: Cabbage and tomato salad
Main course: Roast beef, potatoes, baked tomatoes with herbs, cheese
First course: Tabouleh (made with bulgur)
Main course: Sausages, zucchini
Dessert: Ice cream, apple
First course: Potato and pickle salad
Main course: Breaded fish, cauliflower, cheese
Photos of food: Carine Duflos
The French Dining Experience: Etiquette 101
Perhaps the most interesting difference between the French and American school lunch-time dining experience comes down to how they eat their lunches. Plantier’s observation is fascinating,
“As the children come streaming into the cantine, they sit down at tables of four that are already set and wait for older student volunteers to bring the first course to their table. The child who sits at the designated ‘red’ chair is the only one who is allowed to get up to fetch more water in the pitcher, extra bread for the bread basket, or to ask for extra food for the table. After finishing the first course (often a salad), volunteers bring the main course platter to the table and the children serve themselves. A cheese course follows (often a yogurt or small piece of Camembert, for example), and then dessert (more often than not, fresh fruit).”
What American Children Are Eating
Below are pictures taken from the website American Lunch Room, a website which publishes pictures of cafeteria lunches across America. The difference is apparent.
Bronx, New York
Bronx, New York
Bronx, New York
A Time For Change
The difference between American and French lunches is shameful to say the least. Innocent children across America are literally being fattened and poisoned by the system and not enough people are talking about it.
The issue is more than just a health issue, it’s a social, educational and political issue just the same. Not only are parents unable to afford proper nutritious food for their children, leaving their kids’ diets up to the budget-stricken schools, but parents are also uneducated about the real implications of improper nutrition.
It’s time we do something about this issue. If your child is a part of lunch program, find out exactly what they are eating and demand change from your school board. Take it to the next level and contact your local, provincial/state, or federal elected officials and put the pressure on them to offer more nutritious whole foods in their programs. If your child’s lunches are packed at home, try adding in some sort of fruit or green smoothie to add an extra punch of nutrient density.
Making this issue a topic of discussion with family and friends will help spread awareness and save the children who are unwillingly suffering from obesity, type II diabetes, and other unnecessary health-related diseases.
If you want your eyes opened, check out the documentaries, Fed Up, Forks Over Knives, and Fat Sick & Nearly Dead for fantastic conversation starters around diet and nutrition.
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