Yummy French Kids School Lunches…this week on the Mediterranean in Nice!

Although neighboring Cannes is better known, Nice is actually the largest town on France’s south-east Mediterranean coast (and is the 5th largest city in France). Its architecture reflects a strong Italian influence; right close to the current border, Nice is a favorite spot for Italian tourists, and the city was actually ruled by Italy until 1860.

Sheltered by the rolling hills of the southern Alps, Nice has the best weather in France. Even when it’s raining everywhere else (and it rains a lot in northwestern Brittany, where we were based), a little ray of sunshine seems to hover over the coast at exactly that spot.

Although it’s a reasonably large city (with a population close to 400,000), school lunches in Nice are still cooked in-house by the local government. In fact, the city government decided to take the school lunch service back ‘in house’ last year; previously, food had been provided on contract by a private company. A big debate has ensued, with mommy bloggers weighing in from all sides.  But the consensus seems to be that the food will be as good, and slightly cheaper (because a big city has economies of scale in food procurement). Time will tell!

In the meantime, let’s see what the kids are eating this week. Interestingly, there are lots of organic items, and some kosher/halal and vegetarian choices. These ‘options’ are still controversial in France, because the dominant belief is that kids should simply eat what they’re served. But in multi-cultural towns, schools are adapting. In fact, even kids with special dietary needs are accommodated (350 kids in Nice have individually prepared meals, every day, for the same price as everyone else).

Monday, 23 January 2012
Celery salad with vinaigrette dressing
Fresh salmon filet, with ciboulette sauce
Organic rice
Cheese: Coulommiers
Dessert: Vanilla ice-cream

Tuesday, 24 January 2012
Squash soup
‘Red Label’* Roast pork with onions (OR turkey scallop OR omelette)
Organic macaroni with grated cheese
Plain yogurt
Fresh fruit

*’Red Label’ is a ‘high quality’ designation for French products

Wednesday, 25 January 2012
(no school)

Thursday, 26 January
Potato salad
‘Red Label’* Roast beef (OR organic herb tart)
Green beans with butter
Cheese: ‘Vache qui rit‘ (‘Laughing Cow’, a soft cheese that’s a French favorite)
Fresh fruit

Friday, 27 January
Florida citrus cocktail
Hard-boiled organic eggs, with Mornay sauce
Sauteed zucchini with grated cheese
Cheese: Fromage blanc (a ricotta-style soft cheese)
Dessert: Quatre-quarts cake (similar to a pound cake, and another French kids classic)

As part of a special national program, children also get a free, fresh fruit every recess: this week they’re eating clementines.

So how does all of this work? The city of Nice runs a ‘central kitchen’ with a staff of 70 (including cooks, dishwashers, delivery people, a dietician, a health and safety officer, and food buyers), all overseen by a ‘Scientific Nutrition Council’–chaired by a Nutrition Professor, with volunteer members ranging from pediatricians, immunologists, and gastroenterologists to dieticians, nurses, and early childhood educators.

The central kitchen delivers to 111 pre-school and primary school ‘restaurants’ (they’re not called cafeterias!), staffed by 529 additional workers, who finish preparing the food, serve, help the kids eat (with the assistance of specially designated ‘minders’ who roam the lunchrooms), and clean up afterwards. The smallest number of meals served in any one school is 34 (a special needs school for the blind); the largest is 670.
(Note: these figures do not include local high schools, which are much larger, and usually run their own meal programs).

How much does all of this cost, you might be wondering? Approximately $3.90 per meal per child (lower-income families can apply for a reduced rate of less than $3, or can ask to have the meals provided free). These prices cover most of the costs of running the school lunch program; the remainder is subsidized by the city out of its local tax revenues (no central government subsidies are provided directly).

By way of contrast, the amount of reimbursement that the US National School Lunch Program provides to each school for lunches is (on average) about $2.50 (although schools may charge more or less than this, depending on a number of factors, including other sources of funding, and income levels of students’ families).

So, would it be worth spending more (maybe $1 or $1.50 extra per child for families who could afford it), in order to have our kids eat as well as French kids? I personally think so. So why aren’t we getting our act together?




3 thoughts on “Yummy French Kids School Lunches…this week on the Mediterranean in Nice!

  1. There are lots of great examples of varied, healthy lunches in the US too! Parental guilt is the last thing I want to encourage with this blog. But it’s true that we could sometimes do better. I won’t pretend it’s easy though – as the LA school district is finding out. But there IS growing momentum!


  2. Pingback: What’s for lunch in France? | What's for lunch?

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