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Sep 26, 2010 07:21 AM

CBS Sunday Morning feature on school lunches in France

This was quite a contrast to the type of American menu Jamie Oliver has been trying to overturn. The kids in Paris - even preschoolers - get a 5-course meal, including a cheese course. They do SOME deep-frying as a way to introduce children to vegetables like broccoli florets, but in general the food looks far more nutritious and varied than the standard American cafeteria fare. The food safety standards are impeccable, but they still keep frozen samples of everything for 2 months in case foodborne illness were ever to be suspected. In a small town hundreds of miles to the south, the school lunches are prepared by a former Riviera resort chef. Carved produce garnishes the steam table trays. The lunch budget is $2.50 per child, but he manages to buy local ingredients and utilizes them efficiently. He was shown filleting fish and making fumet from the frames. One teenager enthused that the lunches were more appealing than the dinners he got at home - pasta, pizza...the sorts of meals appearing on a majority of American dinner tables.

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  1. When I lived in France, I used to walk by a school all the time, and I would check the menu weekly. It was always amazing to see what they were serving. They post the menu so that parents can plan their meals at home appropriately and not double up and know what their kids are eating. A few weeks ago I was back in France, and whenever I walked by a school I still checked out their menu. It still sounded great.

    Ironically, one of the largest school lunch providers in the US is Sodexo, which is a French company. They serve a lot of crap here, but that has more to do with US ag policy, subsidized lunch rules etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: smkit

      Yup, U.S.A School lunches...Pizza, tater-tots and chocolate pudding........Where are we headed???

    2. I loved the piece on Sunday Morning! School, parents, child focused on daily meal planning together-what a concept! Such cooperation for the benefit of raising healthy children who love eating varied foods. Hard not to be jealous of such thoughtful collaboration.

      7 Replies
      1. re: HillJ

        School, parents, and child focused on daily meal planning together? A lovely thought, but not so much. The school publishes the menu, and the kids eat it. If they have time, the parents check the school menu so they don't double up. (the nice thing of the 5 courses is that even if the kids don't like the main course, chances are they'll still get enough to eat to get them through the afternoon.) France is real life just like everywhere else -- working parents, crazy schedules...and while good food is a hugely higher priority here, the reality is that life goes off the rails on a regular basis, just like anywhere else.

        The kids actually have an entire hour to sit and actually EAT their meal, not toss fast-food garbage down their throats in 20 minutes flat, like our school in the US insisted they do.

        Real food...prepared by a human being (okay, mostly)...and served on a plate with silverware and the time to eat it. What a concept.

        1. re: sunshine842

          oh sunshine842, I meant the ability to read a menu and coordinate that info with a parents own meal planning. Not that they sit down together and design meals together. :)
          Nor was I suggesting this was a perfect, unrealistic scenario.

          However, my first career was in food service; specifically grant funding and the American approach to school lunch...well, enough folks in authority have already proven the need to reinvent.

          1. re: HillJ

            Okay...I understood from your post that you were envisioning these loving meetings between kids, parents, and schools! I have changed my evening planning a few times because of what they were serving at school...sadly, we haven't gotten a link to the menus for this year yet, but it's been an extraordinarily bumpy start to the school year for everyone we know. All in good time...

            My kid, who's a little on the picky side (not bad -- he'll eat broccoli and cauliflower, but won't touch salad...), has become a really good eater with the French school menus...far better than the kid who didn't eat half his lunch because it was mushy American school food.

            1. re: sunshine842

              I'll remain hopeful for both of us! (& our chowhound-learning kids!)

            2. re: HillJ

              The goal of coordinating school lunch meals with home dinner menus was the least important part of the story, I think.

              The most important part is that France is serving healthy, fresh food to kids for about the same price (I think) that American schools serve complete junk to kids.

              The CBS piece would have been more effective if they showed a typical American school lunch side by side for comparison so people could see the stark comparison. Maybe they couldn't find a school willing to go on camera.

              1. re: taos

                The ongoing an American in Paris series on CBS Sunday Morning chronicles a variety of experiences the individual encounters. Taos, I didn't rate one important part of the story over the other but I do agree the discussion is important. And my envy is based on the fresh vs. junk story more than implied in the video.

                1. re: taos

                  absolutely. It's shocking to see the difference (in a good way!)

          2. I really enjoyed this mornings (September 26th) feature on the wonderful school lunch programs in France. Amazing how the budget can transform into a delicious and healthy alternative to standard lunch fare for students. In part, the piece reminded me of the well prepared home-style cooking I enjoyed during lunch while attending private school in Manhattan during my elementary education in the 50's.

            As a career professional in the food and beverage industry I laud the high standards the French undertake for food safety in the kitchen. I have always maintained strict adherence to stringent food safety procedures & guidelines in the kitchens I have overseen.

            Unfortunately, when your feature showed the lunch being served in the student dining room the obvious appearance of ones thumb overlapping inside the food casseroles seemed to contradict the food safety guidelines that went into the initial preparation. Hopefully those thumbs had just come from a good scrub at the hand washing sink along with an application of hand sanitizer.

            1 Reply
            1. re: a hospitality specialist

              The rules are different in France.

              And yet the incidence of food-borne illness in France is significantly lower than it is in the US.

            2. I saw this, as well, and like HillJ mentions, had a hard time containing jealousy. This on the heels of news stories I heard this past week of protests in France over threats to bump up retirement age to age 62 from 60, extend the work week beyond 35 hours, and reduce some envy-invoking mandated number of vacation weeks I can't recall now. <sigh>.

              The best I can do for my family is to prepare my son's lunch at home, stash a varied and healthy selection in the bag, and hope most of it goes into the kid and not the trash can. The bag still comes home some days with the veggies untouched, but I still favor this over the school lunch menu (from which he can purchase as a treat periodically). That said, the efforts of folks like Jamie Oliver and many others who don't have the power of celebrity but do have the same desire to improve school lunches in the US have been making an impact. A letter home from the school this year showed the guidelines the menu must follow (less than 30% of calories from fat, etc), which I found somewhat comforting... they at least seem to be trying. I also heard a news story this week about a "baby carrot" vending machine going over big in a high school where, like my older son's high school, the vending machines either went away or don't work during school hours. Pair these with the trend towards local, sustainable, farm-to-table food and exercise campaigns like Play 60 and Michelle Obama's "Let's Move," and it appears (at first blush, anyway) that things are starting to turn around.

              I don't think we'll ever have school lunches like those in France with our seemingly-entrenched SuperSize It ethos. Call me Pollyanna or Dr. Pangloss, (it wouldn't be the first time) but I am optimistic that we appear to be at least moving in the right direction now.

              11 Replies
                1. re: CapreseStacy

                  I don't think we'll ever have school lunches like those in France with our seemingly-entrenched SuperSize It ethos

                  That's not the problem.

                  It's really not apt to compare the U.S. education (at least at the primary level) with that of France.

                  The U.S. education system is state driven, local and city leaders generally dictate the details of school operation (even though there is federal money involved, it is done at a very macro level). Every school district in each state will have varying rules and standards, based on budget and what the local city council members have decided, or what the voters have voted on, etc.

                  In France, the education system is what we would consider a "federal program" driven by one set of rules. In the U.S. each state may have hundreds of rules determining a school's operations -- including food.

                  To dictate and harmonize one set of standards would indeed be a laudable endeavor, but would generally be a Sisyphean task.

                  You want your kids to eat healthy? Feed them at home.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    No reason not to want healthy meals in school as well. A good percentage of children eat breakfast and lunch in school.

                    1. re: HillJ

                      In the U.S. school system, it is asking quite a lot for a school not only to educate, but to feed. Some would argue we can barely do the former adequately. And until we can get a grip on educating, we really shouldn't be too focused on feeding.

                      Plus, logistically, how do you propose schools actually to provide a healthy meal? You'll need kitchen staff, a real kitchen, and the most important thing .. money.

                      Good luck.

                      I, too, want a lot of things in life. But I realize some of those things are just pipe dreams.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        And until we can get a grip on educating, we really shouldn't be too focused on feeding.
                        Empty bellies, you can't teach children. What exactly are you say ips?
                        Our entire county of public schools has kitchen staff, a real commerical kit and federal funding. Providing breakfast, lunch & snacks for a fee or fed sub'd.
                        Am I missing something?
                        What schools are serving needs improvement.
                        No Child Left Behind covers a great many regulations; not just meals.
                        Enlighten me, ips.

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      Maybe I am reading it wrongly, but I think it is not an education comparison but a feeding comparison that is being made.

                      Regardless, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and how it is integrated with the ag price supports and farm subsidies 'can' promote unhealthy food in schools through adverse incentives and schools are often left buying frozen foods from big corporations.

                      Under this system it will be hard to attain any proximity to the French ability to manage school feeding programs.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        But it IS the main crux of the issue of feeding schoolkids affordable, tasty, and nutritious meals.s

                        The bottom line is that the entire French relationship with food is lightyears different than that of the US. If the changes began today, it would be generations before the US public ever began to think about food in the same way that the French do.

                        This discussion isn't about education at's about the fact that the kids are at school over the course of a meal...and the overwhelming majority of the population need a way to feed their kids an affordable, healthy meal (regardless of income, by the way). There just isn't a way to feed kids a great meal out of a Thermos or a cooler every day of the week.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          >>>>The bottom line is that the entire French relationship with food is lightyears different than that of the US.

                          You want to change that sunshine842? Start with mom and dad. You simply CANNOT legislate healthy eating.

                          >>>>There just isn't a way to feed kids a great meal out of a Thermos or a cooler every day of the week.

                          Yes, there is. People used to do it all the time. School cafeterias came about largely for school districts to get more federal subsidies.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            No, I don't want to change that. I stand absolutely behind my statement.

                            Note I didn't say anything about legislation or eating at home. I said that the entire French relationship with food is lightyears different than that of the US, and it doesn't matter whether you're talking about children, adults, or senior citizens, or where the eating is happening.

                            And people used to do it all the time, before you had to be a two-income family to stay afloat, under constant pressure to not take vacation, to work when you're sick, and regardless of whatever penny-ante problem or personal life someone might have that would interfere with working 60 hours a week to take home 40 hours of salary.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              "I said that the entire French relationship with food is lightyears different than that of the US, and it doesn't matter whether you're talking about children, adults, or senior citizens, or where the eating is happening."

                              That, we totally agree on.

                            2. re: ipsedixit

                              "School cafeterias came about largely for school districts to get more federal subsidies."

                              School cafeterias came about to address widespread malnutrition during the Great Depression, which left many military-aged men in poor health come WWII.

                      2. I really do hope something can happen on a countrywide level to improve school lunches, but I doubt it'll ever be like French school lunches.

                        I went to Jr/Senior high school in North Dakota in the 90s. The food was made at the school and wasn't TOO bad. The biggest problem was the veggies that were offered, really limp and/or flavorless. Still what could they do? Locally grown veggies aren't available during almost all of the school year, since it's pretty cold and the growing season is just over 100 days. They HAD to ship everything from California, Florida, or Mexico. I suspect it's the same for most of the northern states.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: serendipity3

                          Two North Dakotans in this thread is too much. One of us needs to go.

                          I went to school in North Dakota in the late '80s. My school had lifeless canned food/veggies and frozen processed food from food distributers such as Nash Finch and Sysco.