| 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.
|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.
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.