Le Sigh . . . Watch This Video About School Lunch in France, Then Weep

by Bettina Elias Siegel on September 30, 2010

Thanks to my friend Alyce Ester (of the great online cooking magazine, Culinary Thymes), I learned of this recent CBS Sunday Morning segment on school lunches in France.

You might want to get out some hankies before you watch this. There’s everything you’d expect from France and more: five course meals for three-year olds; locally-sourced, hand-prepared foods; an emphasis on regional cuisine; real china plates and cutlery  (ou est le spork?) ; food that teaches kids about French culture (escargot!  bouillabaisse!) rather than being dumbed down to our depressing Kid Food level; etc. etc.

The report highlights two French schools, one where the cost of a meal is $5 or $6 per student, about twice what the U.S. federal government pays schools for children on free lunch, and another where the chef works with about half that amount.  If at that latter school, overhead is included in the cost of the lunch (the report doesn’t say), then the chef is turning out amazing food for the same money that provides our kids with nuggets and pizza.  My guess, though, is that at the school with the lower-priced lunches, all $2.50-$3.00 is going toward food, whereas in American schools, that figure is usually about 95 cents to $1.10, after overhead.

And to think that Congress was unable to come up with a six-cent-per-meal increase, which, if even if we’d gotten it, was going to come out of the mouths of people on food stamps.

It’s enough to make you choke on your Freedom Fries.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie September 30, 2010 at 7:38 am

I liked the concept that the parents pay what they can and the city picks up the rest. And 2.50/meal for high schoolers and they were still eating fresh food everyday? What is wrong with our system???

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anthony ranieri September 30, 2010 at 8:01 am

i want to go to school in france now.

the best part was when the chef at the second school said: just because they can’t vote, we can’t throw anything in their faces.

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Bri September 30, 2010 at 10:35 am

It’s shameful, isn’t it, how badly we downplay the importance of feeding our kids well, while other developed nations take PRIDE in the food they serve in schools? Good food = healthy bodies. Healthy bodies = healthy minds. Healthy minds = good learners. Good learners = a promising future of productive citizens. I would sincerely doubt that anyone in the United States would dispute the truthfulness of any of those statements, but somehow we miss the simple mathematical equation that results: Good food = a promising future of productive citizens. Maybe it’s because we ate too many US school lunches as kids, so our math skills aren’t up to par.

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Monica October 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Le sigh is correct. It frustrates me to think parents are trying to help their children at home with good ingredients and meals, but once they get to school, it’s a different story. It shouldn’t be like that, a healthy lunch shouldn’t be something that needs debating!

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Karen May 12, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Oh Mon Dieu !! This video brought back some memories (good and “bad”). As you might have guessed, I am French (I grew up in the South). I now live in Houston and quite worried about school lunch programs. I am often “shocked” by the menus which could be part of cultural differences/references. Yes, school lunches in France are balanced, even though we were served some “weird” vegetables (salsify & chard are my bad memories), which are traditional. The meal is composed of appetizer (salad, crudites), entree, cheese & dessert (usually fruit) and children (starting age 3) eat at the table, with real plates & silverware and water as a drink. The lunch ladies usually help the children (especially the youngest ones – schools start at 3 YO), encourage them to taste the food and teach them good table manners. My husband laughed when the lunch lady told the kid “at the table, we don’t play, we eat”. It’s kind of what I tell my 4YO daughter because eating is a serious matter in our house ^_^.
Aaaaah I hope the US could see how important is for our kids to eat healthy and balanced menus… My daughter goes to a French preschool which doesn’t have a lunch program yet. Everyday I pack her lunch and I’m glad she eats a balanced meal everyday. I really wish this country would throw the junk food away or at least wouldn’t give it to our kids and call it “lunch”.

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Bettina Elias Siegel May 12, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Karen: What you describe is SO different from the US lunch room, as you know. Just the difference between china and silverware vs. flimsy styrofoam and a plastic spork speaks volumes! I’m so glad you stopped by to share the French perspective. :-)

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Karen May 13, 2011 at 6:13 am

Thanks! It is different and after watching this video, I know I will prepare lunch boxes for a loooooong time (summer camp included). My nephew (4YO also) is in France and goes to public school. My sister-in-law is quite happy about the lunch program and she usually cooks according to school menus, so her son won’t eat the same meal in the evening; and he is not a picky eater, I admit that helps a lot !
I saw your post regarding the different school meals in other countries… quite impressive !

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