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School lunches...in France.

Now I know why my friend Bénédicte's idea of a kiddie meal for her 8-year-old at a restaurant was salmon and lentils.

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  1. The reimbursement for a Free/Reduced price lunch in the U.S. is around $2.50 +/-. They sure don't look like that! And I can guarantee you that there is no chef in the kitchen and certainly not one that goes out every morning in search of fresh, local vegetables!! We could take a lesson from the French on how to feed kids.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva

      That chef has a certain rakish charm, don't you think? A whole bunch of je ne sais quoi?

      1. re: buttertart

        A whole bunch :-)

        Trust me on this...I'd rather have him serving me lunch than any lunch lady in the U.S. school lunch programs

    2. That's a great story! I wish more people would enjoy feeding their kids different things. I think some kids' palates are inadvertently stunted by us adults assuming they won't like _______.

      I wanna go to that school, maybe just for lunch.


      1 Reply
      1. re: hillsbilly

        I think the kids (at the beginning of the video) were 3 years old. That's certainly young. I wonder if the moms had a choice; couldn't quite understand the part where the woman who fed her child at home until they discovered that the child had not been eating at the school.

      2. I've noticed that children in the US seem to go through a "white food" phase. Do French children not go through that phase or do the French handle it differently?

        7 Replies
        1. re: emily

          That white food phase is not "normal." It is the result of "children's menus" that are made up of grilled cheese, mac and cheese, pizza and chicken fingers and of parents who serve their children "Kid-food" instead of what the whole family eats.

          1. re: chicgail

            You are right, it is not normal, and I know many parents (and consequently their kids) who refuse to participate in it.

            1. re: Cachetes

              When I was a kid restaurant menus has Children's PORTIONS -- small portions for low prices for the kiddies.

            2. re: chicgail

              This is interesting. Today, as I scarfed down my croissant sandwich with egg whites and Swiss cheese, my 75 year-old and very healthy aunt recoiled. She commented, "UGH! It's...all white! There's no color. How can you eat that?"

              This made me think about how my palate differs from hers. Whereas I am a staunch vegetarian, who eats dairy, she chooses her meal from a wide-variety of foods. And to her, seeing "all white" foods is anathema to her daily standard of grub.


              1. re: globocity

                My lunches this week were accidentally really white. I had roasted fennel, red onion and zucchini, cannellini beans and a hodge-podge of pantry grains (brown rice, white barley, black barley, daikon radish seeds). It matched the plate! (But then I poured on some romesco sauce and it looked a bit more lively...)

          2. That's very impressive. I love the attitude of slowing down to enjoy their foods, even at school. Loved watching that chef take time to shop/prepare for the meals.

            1. Oh, I loved this. Thank you for posting this. I taught high school in France for a while in the 90's, and the cafeteria was wonderful. Best of all, since I was just out of grad school and extremely poor, the bread, butter, cheese, wine, and coffee were free! However, I have to say that many, if not most, of the students preferred to walk down the block to McDo, Quick, Pizza Hut, or Flunch. Made me shake my head in wonder every day.

              1. The French spend about $5 per meal per kid. Does anyone think that in today's toxic political climate we'd agree to do this?

                14 Replies
                1. re: pikawicca

                  That whole "ounce of prevention" thing doesn't fly in Fast Food Nation.

                  1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                    I wonder....is the "cuisine" of schools truly a reflection of what the average American eats OR do schools succumb to the lowest bidder of food companies bidding on providing for our schools? I presume many Americans understand how prevention starts with eating healthfully though it doesn't always happen that these families eat in such a way. Still....how does free enterprise factor in to what our students are being served?

                    1. re: globocity

                      having been involved in youth sports AND volunteering at the local school back in Florida, I got to see first-hand how "balanced" a lot of families' diets really are. Age, education, and household income have little to no impact on what families pack in their kids' lunch from what I saw -- and in most of them, the kids would be better off eating their lunches at school. A Lunchable and a PopTart are NOT a balanced lunch, even if you throw in a package of Fruit Strips.

                      1. re: globocity

                        Read all of the posts from DiningDiva...or, to shorthand, the "commodities" program in America has a huge influence on what is served via the School Lunch Program.

                        1. re: globocity

                          Its both, globocity..

                          The American public schools get reimbursed for what the students actually order so their lunches are geared towards what their students want to eat.

                          And, the federal reimbursements aren't really enough so schools are pressured into looking for the cheapest possible cost which inevitably leads to processed food because meals cooked from scratch are almost always more expensive because of the labor costs.

                          1. re: hobbess

                            Umm...not exactly.

                            The meal reimbursement is based on meals served in each category - Free, Reduced and Paid. It is not based on what kids order, in many cases - particularly K-5 - there is only 1 choice for the day. Participation is typically much higher in the elementary grades, K-5, than it is in the upper grades, 6 -12. If a school district has any degree of eligible Free and Reduced price enrollment the bulk of their reimbursement is going to come from K-5, which will at least offset much of the 6 - 12 losses. The menu for the American lunch programs are designed to meet reimbursement meal requirements, whether the kids eat them is not a high priority.

                            Schools are required to track all meals served everyday without overt identification of the Free and Reduced priced students. Whether via token, check off list, or electronic lists, the cafeteria staff is responsible for ensuring compliance. Free & Reduced students must be verified every year for income eligibility.

                            The cafeteria staff is responsible for doing daily production sheets both before and after service showing how much of each item on the menu was prepared, how many servingsof each item were available - and if it was a prepared item such as mac & cheese, how much raw ingredient was used and how many servings it yielded - if there were leftovers how were they used or were they discarded, how each item on the menu is contributing to the meal requirements, if milk was available and what extras or condiments were available. If an audit shows that the production records and the meals served do not match, the district will forfeit their reimbursement. So reimbursement depends upon meeting an array of compliance benchmarks, not on what kids order.

                            It is true that the meal reimbursement is meager at best and woefully inadequate at worst. But schools are not pressured to look for the cheapest products available. It's already available to school through the USDA commodity program. The vast majority of the food served in school breakfast and lunch programs is provided by the USDA at a cost of $2 +/- a case. Very little actual food is purchased from non-USDA sources except for some fluid milk, some produce and possibly sandwich bread and buns. And if the purchases exceed the bid limit mandated in a state education code, these items will be put out to competitive bid.

                            USDA commodities used to be "whole" foods, such as whole turkeys, pork roasts, whole chickens, bulgar wheat, dried beans, cherries, sweet potatoes, etc. The reality is that since the mid to late 80s schools do not have the staff with the knowledge nor resources to be able to deal with "unprocessed" foods. The USDA does all the processing through a network of manufacturers that have provided detailed production specs and can show through viable independent verification that their end products will meet specified nutrient targets. Those that are diligent and go the extra mile are rewarded with a coveted CN label (Child Nutrition label) which means in an audit, any CN labeled item will automatically be considered a legal, acceptable product. For items served without a CN label the operator must be able to show an auditor the nutrient label (Nutri Facts) and the math they used to arrive at the meal contribution the item is making. To help districts figure this out the USDA provides a 500+ page yield notebook showing the yields they will accept for a massive number of food items.

                            It used to be that USDA commodities were shipped directly to the district and the district would then ship them to the manufacturers they wanted use to convert them into end products. This was cumbersome and expensive so the USDA started allowing bigger districts to divert their commodity deliveries directly to manufacturers. Now the USDA diverts directly to the manufacturer. This plan was floated to the USDA not by school districts but by Tyson Foods, one of the massive players in the USDA commodity arena. So now, not only are they growing chickens for the USDA, they are slaughtering and processing them for the USDA to be used in CN feeding programs as well as other entitlement feeding programs.

                            Everyone wants to malign pizza as the horror of the lunch room. It may or may not be, but it depends on who made it. The standard 4x6 pizza served in the K-5 program usually comes 96/cs and if purchased off the shelf is probably in the $55-$65/cs range depending upon whether or not it's got meat, whether or not it's got a CN label and how much meal contribution it will provide. A pizza with meat topping, a CN label and provides almost all the protein and grain requirements will command a higher price, it also means you don't have to add a lot of other components to the lunch. Everything used in that pizza is a USDA commodity. To a major manufacturer such as Schwan (various labels), the USDA will divert flour enriched with an alphabet soup of nutrients, ground pork, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, vegetable (i.e. soy bean) oil and tomato paste, ALL of it a commodity, which means it's excess agriculture production. Schwan takes all that and makes pizza that it will sell to schools at rock bottom prices. It was under $15/case when I was a director. A school district has no hope of even beginning to produce a slice of pizza for $.15 even if it does use all USDA commodity products. The (unionized) labor costs will kill them as will the lack of staff with culinary training or expertise.

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              Thank you for the elucidation, DiningDiva, very interesting indeed.

                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                I know that you must get a little depressed, as we do, when you write these things down, but, your posts are amazing.

                                Thanks again.

                                1. re: DougRisk

                                  Thank you Doug.

                                  No, I don't get depressed, I get angry. The way we devalue children in this country is maddening and unfortunate. The power that the USDA, agribusiness and the ag lobbies have in this country to promote an agenda that is not necessarily in anyone's best interest is frustrating.

                                  But discussions like this and others that are happening need to take place and need to be sustained in order for systemic change to begin.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    I have done some reading (some, not a ton) on the early days of the school lunch, commodities, and surplus programs and one thing that might be interesting to those reading this, is this:

                                    - The Road to Hell is Paved with...

                                    However evil some, or all, or the different Agri-Businesses, Multi-National Corporations, Factory Farms, Bureaucrats, etc. might be, many of these things started with some very good intentions.

                                    The reason why I bring this is up is this: while many may want to scream at, say, Tyson Foods or ConAgra, or ADM, or whomever, it often feels like, "You are hating the player, and not the game".

                                    Many of them now have a hand in making/influencing the rules, but the tracks were laid out for them to start rolling.

                                    BTW, I feel this way about a lot of things in modern politics (whether food-related, or not) and often feel like I am pissing in the wind.

                        2. re: pikawicca

                          That figure was for Paris - if you watch the whole video clip you'll see that in a smaller town in the south of France they spend half that, or about the same as many schools here in the US, and still serve great food because the chef does the shopping and cooking.

                          1. re: BobB

                            Is it me, or were the molluscs described as "escargots" by the voiceover in that segment of the report actually whelks?

                            1. re: greedygirl

                              here's where it gets a little semantic...

                              "escargot" just means snail in French, without technically referring to any particular species, although yes, it's usually just used for the (literally) garden variety.

                              But "escargots de mer" refers to saltwater species -- and those looked to be either what are called 'bigorneau' (which is a winkle) or 'bulot' (which is a whelk).

                              1. re: greedygirl

                                Whelks, I thought, and Maximilien agreed (see below). Bulots.

                          2. That was a very interesting little video. What really got my attention more than just the quality of food being served, was hot it was served - on real plates with real metal utensils. I imagine the French, with their more leisurely interpretation of the work day, also probably give the students enough time to actually enjoy the lunch and take a break from the rigors of the school day.

                            All of that stands in stark contrast to my high school lunch experience, in which there was 35 minutes to get from my previous class, get the books for the second half of the day from my locker, stand in the lunch line to be served something reheated that had arrived in an institutional food supply truck, scarf it down off of my styrofoam tray with a plastic spork in the ten minutes I had left after getting through the line, and then make it to my next class in time.

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: TuteTibiImperes

                              My elementary school boy often brings 1/2 his packed lunch home because he has 20 minutes in which to find a seat in a crowded cafeteria, eat, chat with friends, and try to get some playground time. The kids who buy lunch have less time as they need to wait in line first.

                              When I was in school , I did an exchange to Spain, where the kids had a 90 min or 2 hr lunch. Then there was plenty of time to eat as well as socialize and play. They could go home or stay on campus. But school ended at 5. If we could find it in our budgets to pay teachers for a longer day, this would be more convenient to those of us parents that work too. No need to bridge that 3-5 gap anymore.

                              1. re: sasha1

                                I'm glad you wrote this. Just recently I noticed that my son is eating a lot faster at home, and I'm now thinking that it may be because of his rushed lunch at school.

                                1. re: sasha1

                                  We have a similar problem in my son's school. He always takes his lunch, he won't eat the school lunch ( and I don't blame him) but he tells me that even if he wanted to, almost the entire lunch period is taken up by waiting in line to get your food. It's crazy.

                                  1. re: flourgirl

                                    No, it's not crazy, it's a reflection of the fact that "educators" and school districts do not believe that feeding children is part of their mission. But, since they are *forced* to do it because of the Child Nutrition programs they make it as unpleasant as possible so they can get the onerous taks over as quickly as possible

                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      I don;t believe this is the whole picture. One of the reasons they are forced to make lunch periods so short in most schools is because the Federal government and a lot of State governments keep loading education mandates onto the backs of the schools & there are only so many hours in the school day to fit all this stuff in.

                                      1. re: flourgirl

                                        and THEN they cut teacher's salaries and shorten the school year to save money!


                                        1. re: Rella

                                          Political policy absolutely drives school lunch in the U.S.. Flour girl is right that all the added State & Federal mandates schools have received (many, if not most, of them unfundeded, meaning the schools have to find ways to find compliance) over the last 10-15 years has made school operations difficult.

                                          School lunch programs are Federal programs, it's pretty hard to separate the program from the politics :-)

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            Yes, I agree.

                                            Perhaps a new posting could be:

                                            "U.S. School lunch policy vs. other countries' policy."

                                            Or some similar title posting.

                                            What 'board' would that come under?

                                            1. re: Rella

                                              Hmmm...how about the NOT ABOUT FOOD board ;-)

                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                Yes, there lies the problem. :-))

                                                I enjoy your comment. Clever and to the point.

                              2. Thanks for sharing! This was a great piece. I love that the chef goes to the market everyday rather than rely on Sysco trucks.


                                8 Replies
                                1. re: wontonfm

                                  Most U.S. school districts do NOT rely on the Sysco truck. The vast percentage of their food comes from the USDA via the Commodity program. Most school districts can't afford to shop Sysco.

                                  The reality is that the U.S. school lunch programs are nothing but a support system for commerical agribusiness through the commodity program which is designed to take excess production off the market in order to stabilize farm prices. Most U.S. schools do not have the equipment in the video, nor do they have employees with culinary training or skill.

                                  Like the poster above, I was struck by the use of "real" plates and utensils, not disposables. Most U.S. schools view having to feed children as a nuisance that is not part of their mission. They are, after all, "educators". Large schools in the U.S. often start lunch service at 9:30 or 10 am. Who wants to eat that early. Most teachers have union contracts that require the school to exempt the teacher from any kind of lunch duties.

                                  Feeding kids is NOT what the U.S. Child Nutrition programs are about. They are a commodity dumping ground for excess agricultural production, and mired in excessive and complex compliance rules and reg.

                                  How do I know all this? I was a K-12 Director of Food Service for 3 different school district, inlcuding (but not limited to) San Francisco Unified. I got out 12 years ago because I could not in good faith continue to participate in a system I viewed as broken, unsupportable and in need of a complete overhaul.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    Thanks for the correction! Having never attended a K-12 school in the U.S. I didn't realize the origin of the foods.

                                    Thanks again!


                                    1. re: wontonfm

                                      Understandable if you haven't experienced the system :-) The vast majority of Americans have no real understanding of how Child Nutrition programs really work

                                    2. re: DiningDiva

                                      DD, even though it is a depressing subject, I love when you chime in on this subject.

                                      "The vast majority of Americans have no real understanding of how Child Nutrition programs really work"

                                      And that is why I love it.

                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                        "I could not in good faith continue to participate in a system I viewed as broken, unsupportable and in need of a complete overhaul."

                                        DiningDiva, in a perfect world, it would be a person like you who could completely change the toxic ways of the system.

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          "Most teachers have union contracts that require the school to exempt the teacher from any kind of lunch duties."

                                          Just curious, DiningDiva, what exactly would you like teachers to do as far as lunch duties?

                                          1. re: dmjordan

                                            Actually, I think teachers *should* have duty free lunch periods. They need a break from their classrooms and kids and should be entitled to some downtime for lunch.

                                            In discussions about school lunch (tho' not so much this one) the topic often comes up as to why teachers don't eat with their classes and act as role models, or at least have a presence in school cafeterias. Union contracts often preclude that.

                                      2. My son just looked at this and said that when he has children, he wants to raise them in France. He was drooling over the escargots.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: roxlet

                                          Those looked like whelks, I thought, not escargots? Too pointy.
                                          I liked the boy who said he preferred to eat at school because the food was less ordinary (at home, pasta, pizza etc...).

                                            1. re: Maximilien

                                              What are they in French, j'ai oublié le mot...

                                            2. re: buttertart

                                              I think the narrator spoke of escargots at the same time as the shot went by, and since we were watching with breakfast, we didn't get much of a look at the shot. Whelks then. He'd probably eat those happily as well (or as whelk).

                                              1. re: roxlet

                                                The narrator did, absolutely. Naughty narrator. Those things are good, by the way.

                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                  Not so available in the US, I suppose.

                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                    Not at all, I don't think. At least I've never seen them.

                                              2. re: buttertart

                                                I thought they were whelks too - even more impressive that the kids would eat them (I hate whelks)!

                                            3. This reminded me of this piece (from 1999) about school lunch in Italy: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

                                              1. Wow, that's absolutely fabulous with such great variety. It's a great way to raise chow-kids. I am curious though, it talks about how much they are allocated to create the meals but how much have they had to spend on overhead, like the salaries of the staff and the equipment for the kitchens. Being able to compare that to what's spent in the States in total would be more helpful.

                                                1. By contrast...http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_1783...

                                                  (It should be noted that LAUSD serves 122 million school lunch meals a year, something the French don't have to face)

                                                  1. It makes me think of a cookbook when i was overseas: The Dinner Lady. It has recipesfrom an English cafeteria worker who went for home cooking (using local ingredients, etc) and what a difference it made in the kids, and how the workers became more involved.
                                                    It also made me think of the Edible Schoolyard project Alice Waters has been promoting (not a fan of her cookbooks, but the idea of teaching kids to connect their food to where it came from is brilliant).
                                                    I am impressed by the number of good kids cookbooks there are: RiverCottage, Emeril's (yes, a good cookbook for kids), and I have heard Sam Choy wrote one. I have not seen his, but if I do, I would definitely pick one up.


                                                    1. not entirely realistic, but not terrible.

                                                      School kids get usually an hour for lunch - that might be 45 minutes, might be 1-1/2 hours, depending on the class schedule (which changes day by day). Yes, that's a good thing -- they have time to actually eat, and yes, they're served on real plates with real silverware. And yes, 5 courses, every day -- kids are expected to eat what's put in front of them (and they're usually hungry, so this isn't an issue!)

                                                      No, the vast majority of school cantine cooks are not starred chefs -- and a lot of cantine food is school cafeteria quality...decent, but mostly boring and nothing to sigh over. (Older grades are served cafeteria style -- take one plate from each category)And the vast majority of them don't go out to the local markets -- they take delivery from a truck. The difference is it's usually a local producer. And Sysco provides PLENTY of food to French schools (I've seen them parked outside the cantines both at my kids' school and at the school where I work)

                                                      And for most public school in France, the parents pay 5-8 euros per student, per day, depending on the school.

                                                      (the school calling her in was because she didn't tell them of the change in plans, and they are legally responsible for ensuring that every child eats every day...they were covering their derriere as they had a kid who was going missing at lunchtime.)

                                                      1. Did you notice the children (little 3 year olds) were drinking WATER from real glasses? Is there even ONE school in the US that still does this, public or private?

                                                        9 Replies
                                                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                          that's because French schoolkids don't drink milk. Period.

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            I didn't notice what the older French boy was drinking in the video.

                                                            Do French adults drink milk? Maybe they use all milk to make cheese?

                                                            1. re: Rella

                                                              Nobody drinks milk after they've been weaned in France, and they think the Americans, Canadians, and Dutch are crazy for doing so.

                                                              (our milk consumption has dropped substantially, but cheese and yogurt consumption has jumped)

                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                This just isn't true, I'm sorry... milk is available in many restaurants, on the menu. There were never any raised eyebrows or surprise when my daughter ordered it, and it was available for breakfast in the école maternelle I visited in Dijon on my last visit.

                                                                It's true that adults simply don't drink a glass of milk—but then, most adults in the U.S. don't, either. (Exception: the northern Midwest, where you will absolutely see a 45-year-old man drinking a tall glass of milk with his meat, potatoes and vegetables.)

                                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                  since we moved here, (and many, many years of visiting on vacation) I haven't ever seen a single person of any age order a glass of milk in a restaurant, and my kid's friends look at me like I've sprouted horns if I ask them if they want a glass of milk with lunch or dinner (you mean, to drink? Oh, no, merci. I don't even ask any more.)

                                                                  I'm sure someone has done it somewhere....and while I won't for a second say that my observations over the last decades is overruling, it's also not simply a single off-the-cuff description, either.

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                    You can't even get fresh milk that easily in supermarkets in France - they usually have it somewhere but not always and you have to search for it as UHT is much more the norm, for heating and making café au lait for breakfast.

                                                                    1. re: greedygirl

                                                                      It's in *most* stores now -- might not be much, and you might have to search a bit, but it's pretty easy to find.

                                                                      I use the UHT for cooking and the fresh for drinking and for cereal.

                                                                  2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                    Central midwest, too. Missouri, specifically- where I witness my girlfriend at the time and her family each gulp down a tall, cold glass of milk with their garlic bread, spaghetti and meatball dinner.

                                                                    Mr Taster

                                                              2. re: sunshine842

                                                                I think that GraydonCarter was referring to he fact that water, not soda or other sweetened drinks, was being drunk, and it wasn't out of plastic bottles, it was being drunk out of glasses. It's just a more formal way to drink a beverage, and it means that glasses have to be washed.

                                                            2. I lived in Spain for 6 months when i was in high school, and our lunches were hot, wonderful meals, with fresh baked bread daily.... i still remember the taste of a particular beef stew....

                                                              12 Replies
                                                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                I'm glad to hear that you liked the lunches and appreciated them at so early an age and still remember them fondly. That's wonderful to hear,

                                                                1. re: Rella

                                                                  i was about 17, so not so very young, but yes, i really do remember them....

                                                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                    The nice thing is, at 17, when most children are pickiest, you had good food that you remember. Fresh baked bread would be a great alternative to what they get right now.

                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                      Or the dreadful fries that I can still smell from my HS caf...

                                                                      1. re: buttertart

                                                                        I was surprised the first time I went back to a school cafeteria w/ my kids how the smell was so permeating and familiar. It hasn't changed in 30+ years.

                                                                      2. re: chowser

                                                                        yeah, i was never a picky eater. ahaha i have plenty of memories of the crap i ate at that age too! high school in the States - i literally ate a bag of bbq potato chips and a packaged brownie for lunch almost every single day for 4 years (except those 6 months in Spain)!

                                                                        1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                          Perhaps because lunch in Spain (and France) was actually about feeding kids? Feeding kids is actually a pretty low priority with the U.S. school lunch program

                                                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                            I thought U.S. fed plenty of kids . and have for a number of decades.
                                                                            Perhaps you mean the quality of food is pretty low priority?

                                                                            Before the lunch program was initiated, I would think there were a lot of kids that would have been happy with anything for lunch -

                                                                            Maybe school lunch quality is improving recently? There seems to be a lot of emphasis on quality of food in schools.

                                                                            1. re: Rella

                                                                              The school lunch program started in response to malnourishment during the Great Depression, which left military-aged men in less than ideal physical condition at the start of WWII. The program has changed a lot over the decades, and is now primarily a system for using surplus commodities (which are produced with farm subsidies). There are definitely kids who would go without food if the program didn't exist, but feeding those children isn't the driving force behind the program anymore, in my cynical opinion.

                                                                              1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                Here in Los Angeles, the free and reduced lunch list at some schools approaches 80% or more of the student population. For some children it's the best (or only) chance they have of getting decent food... and yet we still do things like count ketchup as a vegetable.

                                                                                It definitely is a way to use surplus commodities, but don't discount child nutrition as a driver.

                                                                              2. re: Rella

                                                                                No, my comment was not about the quality of the food, the program isn't particularly concerned about the quality of the food served. As long as it'll meet USDA compliance regs, it's good to go regardless of quality.

                                                                                My comment is about the quality of the program. The NSLP (National School Lunch Program) is not about feeding kids. It is an agriculture support program and dumping ground for excess ag production. It's about compliance with a rigid set of eligibility quidelines on multiple levels. It is a politically driven program; kids can't vote so they don't count. The NSLP is about a lot of things, kids and feeding them just doesn't happen to be one of those things.

                                                                                I guess I should also mention that I was a K-12 director of food service for 12+ years in California, inlcuding for one of the largest districts in the state. These are merely my observation about the program after working in it for so long.

                                                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                  "The NSLP (National School Lunch Program) is not about feeding kids. It is an agriculture support program and dumping ground for excess ag production. "

                                                                                  And this is the most important thing you've said in the thread, and you've said some pretty important stuff! People do not see how Big Agra is running the USDA and ultimately contributing to all of our ill health, including that of children eating school lunch food.

                                                                  2. It's not just school lunches. Corporate cafeterias also are far better than their US counterparts (and some companies not large enough to have a cafeteria will subsidise lunch at a restaurant through one of about a dozen "Restaurant Chèque"-type voucher programs).

                                                                    It depresses me to watch and then look at the school lunch menus for this week in even a relatively wealthy district like Capistrano Unified. Then again, there are laws in France regarding the provenance of food (in the Côte d'Or, there are targets to be met for food produced within a certain number of kilometres of the school—which, given the quality of what's grown in Burgundy, is not so hard to do).

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                      You're so right, had a lunch at a French customer's (a factory) that was better than most of the French food served here. I mean it.

                                                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                        > Corporate cafeterias

                                                                        I enjoyed the Potage crème aux Witloofs every day that it was served, from Belgium "with love".

                                                                      2. wow...I still remember the horrid cafeteria food served back in the 80s.....

                                                                        1. Great video. If only that could happen here.
                                                                          I am lucky and live in a great school district that serves applegate meats, bell and evans chicken, barilla plus pasta, organic milk, juices and fruits. But even so, they do serve some "junk" food like sliders, nachos and mac and cheese once a week. They just try to use better ingredients when they do.

                                                                          I like the part about saving samples of the meals in case someone gets sick. That's just smart. 3 year olds go to public schools in France? I probably could have moved there for what it cost me to send my kids to pre-school

                                                                          21 Replies
                                                                          1. re: AdamD

                                                                            "Great video. If only that could happen here. "

                                                                            My guess is, IT DOES.

                                                                            Here me out. As far as I understand, this is one school in Paris. And, the reason why they have this is because one guy became determined to do something outside of the normal regulations and for a price a fair amount higher than what is normally charged.

                                                                            Well, I'd bet that you could find one school in America where something similar is happening.

                                                                            All I am doing here is attempting to compare apples to apples.

                                                                            1. re: DougRisk

                                                                              sort of, but not entirely.

                                                                              Schools are under mandate to source things locally...and three courses (really -- every day -- appetizer, main dish and sides,and dessert or cheese -- on real dishes with real silverware) is the norm in France, as is enough time to actually chew one's food. French kids have downtime during the day to actually just be kids, too - with a morning and an afternoon break. There's always salad, and there's always fresh fruit, and there's always cheese and yogurt on offer -- and most of the kids eat most of that.

                                                                              And while it's certainly not *everything* -- more is prepared fresh in France than in the US, by a very wide margin.

                                                                              That's observation based on the meals served at public and private schools at the elementary, middle, and high-school level in the Paris region. Not all-encompassing, I know, but I *do* know that the requirements are the same nationwide.

                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                Oh, I was not trying to say that the School Lunch Program in America is a good thing. But, if we are going to look at one specific example and say how great it is, well, it might be worth it to look at one great example in America and say how great it is.

                                                                                Also, if we did do that, then it might become easier to see what effect the Surplus Commodity program is having on our Public School lunches.

                                                                                On a different note: Sunshine, how much pork is served in French schools? I am curious about the large number of Muslim immigrants in France (and French Schools, obviously) and how they have reacted to the pork that is served to them.

                                                                                1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                  Does anyone know if there is a public school in America that serves lunches on all real plates, glasses, etc? With several courses? And gives time enough to eat? I have never seen it (or heard of it) but my kids have only gone to public school in one state.

                                                                                  1. re: sedimental

                                                                                    For me, personally, I would not be so interested if the school was public or private (though, I understand that much of this discussion has been about Public schools). Especially since the French school that was initially being referenced is obviously operating outside of the conventional parameters for Parisian public schools.

                                                                                    Personally, I am much more interested in some outlier examples in America...I remember seeing a piece on a school in Connecticut that had a pretty impressive lunch program, and, surprise, surprise, it cost a fair amount more to feed the kids...not unlike what was happening at the one school in Paris.

                                                                                    1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                      It could be that this particular school in Paris might serve a bit differently than other French public schools, but Sunshine seems to think that *all*public schools in France use real dinnerware, have courses and have more time to eat. The elaborate nature of the food may differ by region. I think you would need to compare apples to apples by comparing American public schools to French public schools.

                                                                                      I am sure there are some very rich private schools that serve a fabulous lunch as well- but how pathetic to have to compare American's wealthiest private school lunches to ordinary French public school lunches, IMO.

                                                                                      1. re: sedimental

                                                                                        Like I said, for my personal interest, I am much more interested in comparing what we see in America to what we see in America...if you know what I mean.

                                                                                        I completely understood what she was getting at.

                                                                                        By simply saying, "France is better than America" when it comes to school lunches, again, for me, would not interest me nearly as much as, "Check out how the Surplus Commodity Program (amongst other large federal mandates/rules/regulations/bureaucracies) has affected school lunches".

                                                                                        Some things I find interesting. Some things I find *very* interesting.

                                                                                        1. re: sedimental

                                                                                          All public schools *do* use real dinnerware, have multiple courses, and have more time to eat. I don't just think that, I know that. (it's set by the national education ministry). The public backlash against disposable dinnerware is enormous, and the students at a local high school demonstrated when they used plastic dinnerware in the cafeteria for three days while a new dishwasher was installed. (reusable dinnerware is more ecologically minded, according to the popular mindset).

                                                                                          Do I think that all American schools are rubbish? No. I never said that. My local Florida school didn't have deep fryers -- everything was baked or broiled, and fresh salads and sandwiches on brown bread were always available...a small spot of light in what is often a dark, dark universe! Was it always tasty? Nope. They routinely hit a clunker...as do the cantines in France. But at least in France it's identifiable as having been made from fresh ingredients...not always the case with the American fascination for processed to death and then processed some more. Blue yogurt, anyone?

                                                                                          Do I think that kids need more time to eat? You betcha. When I volunteered at that school, I often ate with my kids, and even as an adult it was darned difficult to get through the line, find a place to sit, and choke down lunch before the next group was rushed in.

                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                            I really admire France for that. It would be cheaper and easier to do it like we do. Bravo that they not only value healthy food, but they value the culture of food and the rituals of dining together.

                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                              The time they give kids...from grammer school through high school...is mind blowing to me. When I was in high school we had 37 minutes. Someone mentioned to me recently that lunch is now 31 total. We had four grades, 800 students per grade level, and three total lunch periods. It was very often that I just finished getting out of line and the bell was already ringing.

                                                                                              Fresh food was not available and some schools near us had/have branded stands in their school (i.e. McD's)

                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                "All public schools *do* use real dinnerware"

                                                                                                Sunshine, I am confused as to whom you are responding. Did someone imply that you were lying?

                                                                                                "Do I think that all American schools are rubbish? No. I never said that."

                                                                                                Same here. I am not sure who it is that you are responding to.

                                                                                                1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                  I was replying to sedimental's comment that "Sunshine seems to think" -- not that I thought sedimental said I was lying...I was just clarifying that it's not just my opinion or perception there.

                                                                                                  I also wanted to make it clear that while I think there's *enormous* room for improvement in the US system, I don't believe that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater, either...they are serving a very real need, and while the improvements can never be fast or complete enough, it is incredibly difficult to feed children a reasonably balanced meal on pocket change a day -- and during difficult economic times, it becomes even more and more crucial, as more and more kids have to rely on their school lunch as the best option they have all day.

                                                                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                  So, Sunshine, any thoughts on how much, if any, pork is served to the Muslim students? I am curious.

                                                                                                  1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                    there are usually two choices for the main dish each day, of which one will always be not pork. (might be chicken, might be fish, might be vegetarian, but nobody will go hungry).

                                                                                              2. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                >outlier examples

                                                                                                Sasha and Malia eat well. Here are some select schools:


                                                                                                1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                  I wouldn't say Sidwell Friends is indicative of anything other than what you can have if you pay that type of tuition. A better example might be Berkeley high school and their garden.


                                                                                          2. re: sunshine842


                                                                                            USDA reg - that came out today - allowing schools to purchase locally grown agricultural products

                                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                              God bless the USDA.

                                                                                              Click on the "Welcome video" at this link and forward to approx 3:36

                                                                                              "The national school lunch program alone provides over 30 million nutritious lunches every day in schools across the country."

                                                                                              And just look at the food the kids are eating while that voiceover plays!!

                                                                                              Mr Taster

                                                                                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                Mr. Taster I was looking at your previous bread picture and post thereof, talking about cake flour. Your post is quite a while back, but just in case you don't know by now, KingArthur cake flour is on shelves here in Virginia. I believe the quality is probably good. I have some on-hand in the freezer, but since I am not a maker of cakes, I've not used it.

                                                                                      2. I wish my school was like France. I bring lunch from home. However, the kids who have to endure the cafeteria food suffer. They don't even spell chicken it is "chiken' Nuggets" I suspect because it would be illegal to call them chicken. We only get maybe 20 minutes to eat by the time we sit down. The sad thing is I saw a girl crying at recess and she was upset because summer was coming and she wouldn't be getting breakfast and lunch everyday anymore!! I wish schools had gardens that grew fresh vegetables that they could use in their cafeterias.

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: girloftheworld

                                                                                          Yes, I know there are parents who are not able/capable to take on the task of feeding their children for many, many reasons. I wonder what can be done to encourage mothers and fathers to take care of their children's needs.

                                                                                          What will happen to the child you are speaking about?

                                                                                          1. re: Rella

                                                                                            I don't know. I went and asked the counselor and she said some of the schools have extended hours through the summer for kids but because our school doesn't have enough kids on free and reduced lunches it doesn't but she thanked me for making her aware and told me not to worry about it or gossip.

                                                                                            1. re: Rella

                                                                                              I volunteer at a food pantry and the need in the summer for these children is huge but it's not a "popular" time to give food, since there aren't any big holidays. It's a concern in most communities for children who receive free/reduced meals at school. As for encouraging parents, this isn't about mindful neglect. If you don't have money, you do what you can.

                                                                                          2. All of this reminds me of something my nephew told me about when he was in college: One day he saw food being delivered to the University cafeteria. The meat boxes were labeled "Grade D edible." That was the last time he ate meat in the cafeteria.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: roxlet

                                                                                              Good for him. He avoided all that lovely pink spoodge in the ground beef


                                                                                            2. So kids are brought up with a knowledge and appreciation of food as cuisine. I'm absolutely in favor of this. Thanks for posting.

                                                                                              8 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: nooyawka

                                                                                                It's amazing to see -- I taught in a high school last year, and had high-school seniors (17 and 18) giving me wine and cheese recommendations (legal age is 16 here) and having a debate in my class about which breed of cattle is the best for steaks. No, it wasn't culinary school, but there were days you'd have thought it was. (made my job easier those days -- I never steered conversations away from food, because we ALL enjoyed them!) They'd write down restaurant names and drop them on my desk on the way out of class...and they begged me for my chocolate chip cookie recipe when I brought in cookies as an end-of-year treat.

                                                                                                Kids here are absolutely aware of where their food comes from and even teenagers take the time to sit down and actually eat their lunch (like all kids, they go to McDo, too, but that's a rare treat and not a habit)

                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                  That is so cool.

                                                                                                  My nephew and I have had similar conversations...but his friends? not so much.

                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                    I think it's great that kids are aware of (and care about) where their food comes from, and that they take the time (when possible!) to sit down and appreciate it.
                                                                                                    Thanks to the OP for posting this video.

                                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                      The school you taught in, was it what we would call a "public school"? (You know, an open enrollment, non-tuition, school that the neighborhood kids go to)

                                                                                                      1. re: DougRisk


                                                                                                        Not entirely sure what your questions are suggesting.

                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                          Not suggesting anything. Just curious.

                                                                                                          I have known quite a few people who taught overseas and I am always interested to know what kind of school they taught in. And Paris is especially fascinating in that they seemed to buck the trend that happened in the 60's and 70's with ethnic ghettos in the urban core.

                                                                                                          1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                                            I didn't teach in Paris.

                                                                                                            But Paris (indeed much of Europe) does it the other way round -- the ethnic ghettos are huddled on the outskirts of the city (hundred year old buildings close to everything are expensive -- so the rich stay in the high-rent district, and the poor move out to where stuff is cheaper). But they're there.

                                                                                                  2. Oh I wish we could have that here! I work in an after school program, me and my supervisor cringe at what we have to serve the kids for snack. Esp. while we have to preach nutrition. We have some pretty CHOWish kids too who'd jump at the chance to try new stuff. All the more reason for me to get my degree and eventually run my own daycare/afterschool.