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What Do Other Countries Eat For School Lunch

by: Jill Richardson

Wed May 20, 2009 at 12:00:00 PM PDT


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I'd like to highlight a spectacular series on the blog F is For French Fry about school lunch in other countries. It shows you just how woefully inadequate our own school lunch actually is.

The most recent post was about Italy. Italian children eat local and organic food for lunch at school.

Like France, Italy views lunch as an integral part of a student's education. School meals are supposed to teach children about local traditions and instill a taste for the regional food. To that end, Italian law allows schools to consider more than just price when making contracts with meal providers. Schools can take into account location, culture and how foods fit into the curriculum.

All this makes for lunches that are about as different as it gets from American school meals. On a recent Friday, students in the northern city of Piacenza ate zucchini risotto and mozzarella, tomato and basil salad. Tomorrow they're getting pesto lasagna, a selection of cheeses and a platter of garden vegetables. Meat only shows up on menus only once or twice a week, and it's usually not the main course. Compare that to American cafeterias, where it's so hard to find a meatless entree that organizations are petitioning Congress to require a vegetarian option for school lunch.

Cost: $5.60 apiece.

Jill Richardson :: What Do Other Countries Eat For School Lunch
How about France?

Here's what students in one Paris school district ate for lunch last Tuesday: cucumbers with garlic and fine herbs; Basque chicken thigh with herbs, red and green bell peppers and olive oil; couscous; organic yogurt and an apple. For snack, they had organic bread, butter, hot chocolate and fruit.

Like the Japanese, the French take school lunch seriously. The mid-day meal is supposed to teach students good manners, good taste and the elements of good nutrition. Recommendations from the French government assert that eating habits are shaped from a young age and that schools should ensure children make good food choices despite media influence and personal tendencies.

Cost: $8.23 apiece.

And Japan?

Japanese schoolchildren eat lunch in the classroom, and students take turns serving the meal and cleaning up afterward. Their teacher eats the same food with them - typically rice, soup, fish and milk - and pays close attention to manners. Virtually all students eat the school lunch, as they're usually not allowed to bring their own food.

Lunch in Japanese schools is part of the curriculum just like math or science. The midday meal is meant to improve student health, but also to "foster correct eating habits and good human relations," according to the Ministry of Education. Schools send home a monthly menu that outlines the nutritional value of each meal, lists the ingredients and discusses the benefits of the foods served, many of which are locally grown and produced.

Cost: $26.33 apiece. (Labor is expensive)

In each of these cases, the kids pay according to their families' incomes, and often even the top income bracket still doesn't pay the full price. In Japan, for example, kids pay about 10% of the actual cost of thelr lunches. In France the top income bracket pays about $5 per meal.

Now compare this to the American school lunches we've been hearing about. Here in the states, we only pay about $2.50 per meal, and about $1.00 goes to the actual food. And yet, school nutrition advocates are in front of Congress, begging for a mere extra $.35. We need a lot more than that, in my opinion. They are our kids. They are worth it.

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But, but, but... (4.00 / 3)
Why do those countries deny their children high fructose corn syrup?  And Piggle Sticks with dipping sauces, and Pop Tarts!  How dare they?!

Yeah, that's a great series - thanks for highlighting it...

I'd like to think that we just don't get it when it comes to starting our kids off right with lessons in how to eat healthy, introducing them to real food, etc; rather than that we just don't care...

But sadly, I think it's the latter.

Healthy school lunches don't bring in the big lobbying dollars to our "public servants", do they?


you should hear (4.00 / 4)
what teachers here in my school district say about their students after eating crap at lunch.They fall asleep, the kids not the teachers. This is according to one of (hopefully) our one school board members who wants to redo what our kids eat.

How do they do it? (4.00 / 3)
And how do they do it that cheaply?  Seriously, is there anywhere I can learn about this stuff?  If I'm trying to convince my school to adopt a garden, maybe I can get them to serve a few real meals.

Vote for yourself at www.ni4d.us!

How'd that go, btw? (4.00 / 4)
Did you ever have that meeting?

I think they can manage to do what they do because, for starters, those countries aren't spending $100,000 a minute in Iraq; and beyond that, those countries never threw away their food cultures in order to enrich ADM and Cargill, etc, while throwing up actual legal barriers to obtaining healthy food in schools.

They view school cafeterias as more than just the 'food' equivalent of a cheap gas station, and they always have.

But we can also do it here, for that matter, and some already do - besides Berkeley, Portland (Harvest of the Month, Local Lunch, the Abernethy Elementary School Garden of Wonders Project...) and others, Jill brought us this story a few days ago about how they're doing it in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.


[ Parent ]
It went well (4.00 / 3)
The principal liked the idea and the food services director even really liked the idea!  The food services woman was actually excited to get started on it and said she had been thinking about doing something like this.  Also, a tract of farm is being given to the school district (It's a place for cows that graze right now) and my principal didn't know any specifics but said that that might be a good place to put the garden.

The biggest obstacle, it sounded like, were insurance issues.  I'll have to have a meeting with the food services woman, the director of facilities or something like that (I've met with him once before and was going to meet with him about planting trees and saving energy and other stuff like that anyway).  But the ball is rolling a bit and it seems like in time it will get done.

Thanks for asking and thanks for reminding me - I need to email my principal!

Vote for yourself at www.ni4d.us!


[ Parent ]
Nice! (4.00 / 2)
May you one day be able to visit your old school, and admire the fantastic thing that you played a large role in creating...


[ Parent ]
Excellent point that! (4.00 / 3)
"They view school cafeterias as more than just the 'food' equivalent of a cheap gas station, and they always have."

I think you just hit the nail on the head here Jay. That's exactly the oposite of what our (USA) society, in general, and our governments all the way from the top to the bottom (with a few exceptions) does. It's a gas station. Look at the regs from USDA. In Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilema he points out how foods used to be regional in this country too. It was recognized that produce from one part of the country was different not only in taste but in nutritional value than that produced in another area or at another time of the year.
Differenced between pastured/grasse finished meats, eggs, etc. and grain fed/finished or indoor raised animals, or even produce.

Now, according to USDA it's all supposed to be the same, except in instances where some organizations claim that things like pastured poultry is actually bad, or not as good for you as chickens raised in broiler houses. I actually heard Dr. Dean Edell say that one on the radio one day. I really respect him, but he sounded like he agreed with the statement and I really had to question my trust in him when that happened. But, he was going with what the 'industry experts' were saying.

Normal people scare me. But not as much as I scare them.....


[ Parent ]
in italy, note that a lot of the meals are (4.00 / 3)
vegetarian. Also, I'm sure they can get SOME discount by purchasing items wholesale instead of retail. And then I think there are also savings that come from cooking the food in school kitchens instead of paying a for-profit company to cook it for you and then just heating it up at school, using all disposable packaging.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
I suspect that they consider it as part of the curriculum (4.00 / 3)
and not a separate endeavor that's expected to be self supporting.

Consider the cost per hour for school lunch versus the cost per hour for a history or science or math lesson.

As it was, he did a deal with a blancmange, and the blancmange ate his wife.


[ Parent ]
Unbelievable article! (4.00 / 5)
Wow! You get what you pay for, sadly.

If we put in nearly as much as France how much better would we be nationally health wise, let alone the fact that it is literally buying a lunch for our future.

Outstanding diary, Jill. Very disturbing too, in the sense that we complain about how terrible these "European" systems are, and yet their own children eat better than ours do.

Thanks for the article.

Cheers


School lunch in Japan and Mexico (4.00 / 1)
Yes, I loved school lunch in Japan. So cheap but so yummy and wholesome. The only reservation I ever had was about the lack of whole grains. Despite this, there were actually demonstrations in my neighborhood by concerned parents that school lunches should be still cheaper and healthier!

School lunch in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I did my fieldwork, was walking home for the second and last meal of the day. There a meal is basically beans and tortilla, and perhaps one of every two or three meals includes egg or chicken.  


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