Making Great Kids School Lunches: An elementary school in Toronto steps up to the plate

Most of my posts on school lunches are from France, as part of my ongoing French Kids School Lunch Project. But every once in a while I come across a great school menu in North America…and I always love sharing these. It’s so inspiring to read about families and communities that have come together to create great meals for their kids.

A friend in Toronto recently told me about a great lunch program being run at Fern Avenue Elementary, in the Parkdale/Roncesvalles neighborhood.

The school-wide lunch program is a not-for-profit collaborative effort between the school and the on-site daycare, supported by parent volunteers. Meals are prepared by Chef Maggie in an on-site kitchen, and provided to both students at the school and daycare. Children must purchase a minimum of one month of lunches, which cost $90 (or $80 for those purchasing 3 months or more), which works out to about $4.25 per meal. Produce is bought locally wherever possible, and you’ll see from January’s lunch menu that the meals sound super-tasty and healthy. Fresh fruit, salad (or other vegetables), bread (or a starch), and milk are served at every meal, in addition to the main course. Subsidies are available for low-income families (important in this traditionally working class but now gentrifying neighborhood).

My favorite lunch menu of the month:

Chickpea and pasta soup
Cream cheese on a bagel
Cucumber
Banana

All of the menus sound good; balanced, tasty, with a little bit of kid appeal. And I love their motto: Healthy Food, Healthy School, Healthy Community! If only we had something like that at my daughter’s school in Vancouver…but that’s another story.

How much should a school lunch cost?

You might remember the fuss a few years ago when Alice Waters publicly speculated that a quality school lunch should cost about $5. Critics were scornful, and public opinion seemed to reject Waters’ idea, as school food activist Dana Woldow writes today in the San Francisco BeyondChron (I found Woldow’s courtesy article of The Lunch Tray: a great blog well worth checking out).

You might be interested to know that school lunches in Paris cost up to $7 per child (for the wealthiest families). (See my earlier post on this topic).

A key point about the Parisian school food system is that poorer families pay much less: 20 cents per meal (yes, that’s right, 20 cents). Most middle-class families pay around $3 per meal. In other words, the middle-class and wealthy subsidize meals for poorer families, so that all children can eat the same thing at school.

Check out my post, and you’ll see that students get a lot for their money: three or four course meals, with delicious food (including organic).

The French believe that good food does cost money, and they’re willing to pay. They also believe that everyone should have access to healthy food. I realize that suggesting ‘cross-subsidies’ might make people angry, but it is a solution worth talking about, in my opinion. Otherwise, only children from families who can pay for ‘real food’ will get it. And I think that’s unfair.

What French Kids are Eating for Lunch This Week…In Montpellier

As promised, here is my weekly blog update on school lunch menus in France. This week we’re in Montpellier, a city of 250,000 people on the Mediterranean coast, just next to Provence in southern France. Over a thousand years old, Montpellier is best-known for its beaches, historic buildings, castles, and sunny climate. (I know, I know…)

The meals listed below were served to all school students in the city (all grades, all ages). The meals are all at least three courses: that’s normal for French schools. The cost? $4.66 per meal (3,38 €uros), but lower-income families pay as little as $2.43 (1,76 €uros) per child. With that in mind, read on…

(Don’t believe me? See the Montpellier municipal website here: http://bit.ly/pKnsy8. Menus are posted on school doors and online so that parents can see what their children are eating. This way, parents can ensure that they kids served the same dish at home during the week, variety being an important principle of French eating habits.

Monday, October 17th 

  • Savory salad and shallot vinaigrette (Salade saveur et vinaigrette à l’échalotte)
  • Roast veal (Rôti de veau)
  • Baked pasta with cream sauce and cheese topping (Pâtes à la crème gratinées)
  • Fresh cottage cheese and sugar (Faisselle et sucre) with red berry sauce (Coulis de fruits rouges)
Faisselle is best described as a cross beween yogurt and cottage cheese, and is as yummy as it sounds.


Tuesday October 18th

  • Endives and croutons (Endives et croûtons)
  • Braised lamb with thyme and garlic (Braisé d’agneau au thym et à l’ail)
  • Runner beans (the flat, green ones) with olive oil (Haricots plats à l’huile d’olive)
  • Blue cheese (yes, that’s the moldy kind!) (Fromage à pâte persillée)
  • Fresh Fruit

Wednesday October 19th  ~ no school

Thursday October 20th

  • Salad: Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and basil vinaigrette (Tomate mozzarella et vinaigrette au basilic)
  • Spaghetti with seafood (Spaghettis aux fruits de mer)
  • Fresh Fruit

Friday October 21st 

  • Cabbage stew (Potée de choux) with potatoes
  • Pork loin (Echine de porc)
  • Braised green cabbage with cubed bacon Choux vert braisé aux lardons)
  • Cantal cheese
  • Fresh Fruit
I don’t know about you, but this is much better than most of the meals that the adults I know ate this week, much less the kids!

It's National "Tasting Week" in France…the biggest food fest of the year!

France’s “National Tasting Week” is a national food celebration that dwarfs anything we do in North America. For a full week, an already food-obsessed country focuses on food, food, and more food.

Celebrity chefs show up in schools, restaurants offer innovative (and often inexpensive) tasting menus, top chefs open their doors (and, even more intriguingly, their kitchens) to the general public, and all sorts of wonderful (and sometimes wacky) workshops are offered across the country.

What about a ‘Raw Cocoa Tasting’, or a session with ‘Grand Chef’ Medigue at the Chateau D’Orfeuillette in Lozère? And that’s just for the kids! Their parents head off to shows like CreaSculptures: the world’s first forum dedicated to the art of sculpting fruits and vegetables.

Even better: all school children participate in half-day food workshops with chefs, bakers and pastry-makers. Why? Here’s the answer from the organizers of “Tasting Week”:

“Educating taste, particularly in childhood, is the key to a balanced, healthy and diverse diet for one’s entire life. All children can learn to appreciate different tastes, to distinguish between them, and to talk about them. Schools, chefs, and the family: all have a role to play.”

Amen! And Bon Appétit!

It’s National “Tasting Week” in France…the biggest food fest of the year!

France’s “National Tasting Week” is a national food celebration that dwarfs anything we do in North America. For a full week, an already food-obsessed country focuses on food, food, and more food.

Celebrity chefs show up in schools, restaurants offer innovative (and often inexpensive) tasting menus, top chefs open their doors (and, even more intriguingly, their kitchens) to the general public, and all sorts of wonderful (and sometimes wacky) workshops are offered across the country.

What about a ‘Raw Cocoa Tasting’, or a session with ‘Grand Chef’ Medigue at the Chateau D’Orfeuillette in Lozère? And that’s just for the kids! Their parents head off to shows like CreaSculptures: the world’s first forum dedicated to the art of sculpting fruits and vegetables.

Even better: all school children participate in half-day food workshops with chefs, bakers and pastry-makers. Why? Here’s the answer from the organizers of “Tasting Week”:

“Educating taste, particularly in childhood, is the key to a balanced, healthy and diverse diet for one’s entire life. All children can learn to appreciate different tastes, to distinguish between them, and to talk about them. Schools, chefs, and the family: all have a role to play.”

Amen! And Bon Appétit!