Better School Lunches: What Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution could learn from France….

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is still going strong, even though it’s not running on TV anymore (although I do confess I still love watching those re-runs). And there’s an exciting new development: the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation has formed an Advocate Team: 22 bloggers have made a pledge to promote healthy kid’s food (I’ve included their names at the bottom of this page).

So what could the Food Revolution learn from France? It may surprise you to learn that France had its own kids food revolution a few years ago. But over the past decade or so, the French have started to worry about threats to their food culture, and worried even more about a small rise in child obesity rates (which are still much lower than other developed countries) in the 1990s.

In response, the French started their own Food Revolution. The government banned vending machines in schools (yep, that’s right, all schools, no exceptions), and then revised nutrition guidelines for the 6 million French kids eating in school cafeterias every day. Children are strongly discouraged from bringing lunch from home (and most don’t, because what they get at school is so tasty!). Freshly prepared three-course meals (bien sur!) are served every day; vegetables and fruit have to be served at every meal (raw one day, cooked the next), and some foods—notably fried food, ketchup, and sweetened desserts—are served no more than once per week. (You can check out some of the (unbelievably) delicious menus that French school kids eat at my French Kids School Lunch Project).

So France’s equivalent of Jamie Oliver, a chef named Cyril Lignac, arguably had a much easier job than his British counterpart. Both went into schools, made a TV show, wrote cookbooks. But whereas Jamie’s reception was, to put it bluntly, mixed, Cyril was received with open arms. The names of their two TV shows say it all: rather than Food Revolution, Lignac’s show was called Vive la Cantine (Long Live the Cafeteria)!

This might sound a little odd to self-styled ‘food revolutionaries’ in North America, but French kids (and parents) really love school lunches. They’re healthy, delicious, and affordable. They cost an average of $3 for a freshly prepared, 3-course hot meal; and kids from low-income families pay as little as 20 cents. The French are so proud that most communities (even tiny villages) now post their menus on-line (which is why I can translate them every week for the French Kids School Lunch Project)

These menus make the point that kids can eat well. The results of France’s Food Revolution (which is arguably a few centuries old) are there for all to see. In France, child obesity rates have stabilized, and even declined slightly. And, at least according to official statistics, French kids eat many more fruits and vegetables than North American kids do. Most importantly, they eat them happily. French kids really do eat everything–and parents have a great set of tactics and strategies for getting them to do so. These had such great results with our family that I was inspired to write French Kids Eat Everything (which will be published with HarperCollins in early April).

So, no more excuses! If the French can have such a successful Food Revolution, we can too.

I find it hard to understand why so many North Americans believe that kids only like ‘kid’s food’. Why do you think we fall into the trap of thinking that kids don’t like healthy food?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ps I’m so proud to be a Jamie Oliver Food Foundation Advocate Team member! Here’s a list of all of the other members–check out their great blogs and products!

Brenda Thompson @ Meal Planning Magic
Kim Gerber @ Out of the Box Food
Natalie Perry @ Perry’s Plate
Thippi Fleckenstein @ Noodle On That
Amanda Wendt @ The Organic Trail
Amy Wilcox @ Mia Cucinas Cucina
Yvette Garfield @ Handstand Kids
Kelly Lester @ Easy Lunchboxes
Johanna Cook @ Momma Cuisine
Michelle Sybert @ Michelle’s Journal Corner (and Muffin Tin Monday!)
Jennifer Tyler Lee @ Crunch A Color
Laura Fuentes @ Momables
Katie Newell @ Health Nut Foodie
Nicole Cibellis @ A Family That Eats Together
Kelly Doscher @ The Food Minded Mama
Gwen Wilson @ Simply Healthy Family
Jamie Schler (honorary) @ Life’s A Feast
Bonnie Stoilkovich @ Zuma Organic
Shanna Ferrigno @ Ferrigno Fit
Karen Le Billon @ Karen Le Billon
Bri DeRosa @ Red Round Or Green
Isabelle Vorhies @ Isabelle At Home

3 thoughts on “Better School Lunches: What Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution could learn from France….

  1. You’re more than welcome ^_^

    I like your insight about the French school lunch system… I grew up with it, without really knowing/understanding much about it (apart that we liked what we ate).

    As a French mother bringing up her daughter in the USA, I had to educate myself on school lunches quality (or lack of quality in this case) and lunchboxes which I like preparing. I’m glad to see more parents being concerned about children school lunches and very grateful to the Food Revolution Advocacy Team and others campaigns.

    As you noted, the French system is not perfect (lack of room in cantines)… but I want to believe that if everybody is willing to make an effort, we can take the best of both worlds.

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  2. Thanks for this great comment! You make such important points: the French system has its advantages, but is definitely not perfect! It also varies from place to place, because school lunches are handled by each municipality, town, or village. In the small village where we lived, there was room for everyone (and this is true of most smaller towns too). But there is sometimes a problem with crowding, particularly in bigger towns and cities.

    And affordability is still an issue for some, although cross-subsidies do exist in most places that I have studied (the cheapest school lunch in Paris is only 18 (euro) cents, subsidized by those families paying over $7 per meal! but the average meal cost is between $3 and $4, according to national statistics). Some local governments make meals available free to families who really need it–but, again, this is not available in some places – particularly the bigger towns and cities.

    So the French approach is far from perfect. But I still think it offers some interesting ideas about what we could do differently here. First, as you note, we could prioritize food more: be willing to spend more time eating, and spend more money making sure food is healthy and tasty. Second, we could start believing that kids actually can eat well, rather than training them to like kid’s food.

    That’s why I’m so excited about the Food Revolution Advocacy Team…and there are lots of other great kids food campaigns out there.

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  3. Aaaah I feel for Jamie Oliver. It is difficult to start a Food Revolution when people don’t take kids’ food seriously. Kids in the US barely have 30 minutes to get their “food” and eat it.

    France has always been serious regarding food (very serious matter at home growing up) and I am glad “la cantine” improved the menus and tastes, even though we never really complained as kids = 3 course meals, the teachers and lunchladies usually make sure the kids eat properly (table manners with fork and knife), only water as the main beverage.

    However, the meal prices are different and depend on parents’ finances = between 3.50 euros and 5 euros ($4.5 and $6.50). Not every child can eat at La Cantine. School lunch rooms have a limited space. Working parents are sure to have a spot for their kids, however, if only one parent works, usually the stay-at-home parent has to pick the child up and take him home for lunch and bring him back to school. The option “bring your lunch” doesn’t exist (except for kids with allergies, enrolled in “la cantine”).

    Of course, it depends on school districts (neighbourhood, cities), availability… some kids with a stay at home mother can join la cantine 2 days a week.

    Living in the USA (Texas), I am quite angry when I see school menus. I really wish the US would take kids food (and food in general) more seriously = to enjoy a good meal (healthy and tasty).
    The more I think about it, the more I notice it’s a big cultural difference (a shock for me actually)

    I really enjoy your blog (discovered thanks to the Lunch Tray blog) and thank you to all the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation Advocate Team members ^^

    Like

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