Leeks, radishes, salmon and courgette: French Kids' School Lunch…this week in the tiny village of Annonay

Annonay (or, in the local Occitan language Anonai) is a small town in the Ardèche — part of the Rhône-Alpes region in southern France. At the crossroads of two major historical trade routes, it has a long history as a site for pilgrims. By the mid 1400s, it reportedly had 14 churches and 5 monasteries for only 2000 inhabitants — half of which were clergy! In the 20th century, Annonay developed as an important industrial town: with one of the largest Renault car factories in France. Tracing paper was also invented here — a fact which town residents are still very proud of!

Today, Annonay has about 17,000 people, and a struggling economy, with a higher-than-average unemployment rate. In many ways, it’s typical of many smaller towns in France, confronting issues such as an aging population, and deindustrialization and competition from abroad.

So, what are French children eating in Annonay this week?

As usual, the meals follow a four course structure: vegetable starter; main dish with vegetable side; cheese course; dessert. All meals are served with fresh baguette (eaten plain) and water. No flavoured milk, juice, sports drinks, or pop. No vending machines. No fast food or junk food. Food for thought!

Note: all of the bread served at every meal and some of the vegetables in the following menus are organic.

Monday April 30th
Leeks with vinaigrette
Beef bourguignon with gratin dauphinois (scalloped potatoes baked in a béchamel (white) sauce – a French classic!)
Cheese: Whipped fromage blanc — an even lighter version of the French classic
Dessert: Kiwi

Tuesday, May 1st
Holiday (Labour Day)

No school French children typically have Wednesdays off for sports, arts or other activities that North Americans would usually do after school. They compensate by having a longer school day the remaining four days of the week. Children either stay at home or go to a full-day ‘recreation centre’, where lessons and outings are offered (free or at low prices).

Thursday, May 2nd
Green salad, radishes, and butter (sounds strange, but it’s the classic combination; the butter goes on the baguette, which is otherwise eaten plain)
Roast porc and pureed courgette (that’s zucchini in ‘American’!)
Cheese: Saint paulin
Dessert: Apricots in fruit syrup

Friday, May 3rd
Green beans with vinaigrette
Salmon paupiette with tarragon sauce (typically, a ‘paupiette’ is rolled and may be stuffed with delicious tidbits – likely another kind of fish and/or a cream sauce)
Cheese: Chanteneige – a whipped form of ‘fromage frais’ (sort of like ricotta), lightly salted
Dessert: An apple

How much do these meals cost, you might be wondering? As is typical in France, parents pay according to their income. The French believe that all children have the same right to the same healthy meal–and that higher-income families should pay more than lower-income families. The lowest price is 1.26 € (Euros, or about $1.65 US), and the highest price is 4.17 € (Euros, or about $5.50 US). For the poorest families, the meals are provided for free. Food for thought, n’est-ce pas?

This blog post is part of my French Kids School Lunch Project. Every week, I post the school lunch menus from a different village or town in France, where three-course, freshly-prepared hot lunches are provided to over 6 million children in the public school system every day. These meals cost, on average, $3 per child per day (and prices for low-income families are subsidised). My hope is that these menus (together with my other blog posts about the French approach to kid’s food) will spark a conversation about what children CAN eat, and how we can do better at educating them to eat well.

2 thoughts on “Leeks, radishes, salmon and courgette: French Kids' School Lunch…this week in the tiny village of Annonay

  1. Thanks so much for your comment. I’m sorry my posts made you angry! As I try to be careful to point out, French school lunches aren’t perfect (I detail the criticisms at length here: https://karenlebillon.com/french-school-lunch-menus/). In explaining French school lunches (warts and all), I noted that they have improved A LOT over the past 10 years, when the national government put a new set of stringent regulations in place (in 2002, and another new set of regulations in 2011). However, this doesn’t mean that all kids get great lunches all of the time.

    French people definitely eat their fair share of junk food (as any visit to a shopping mall will demonstrate). That’s one of the reasons why the French government was so keen to act to improve school lunches, not only to improve children’s nutrition but also to teach them about healthy eating habits. The ‘taste training’ classes that all children now receive probably weren’t around when your children were in primary school (they’ve been slowly developed over the past two decades, and universally implemented in 2011 with the first national guidelines for taste training and the ‘Semaine du Gout’ all children in the equivalent of Grade 4 are now offered – complete with a graduation certificate at the end of ‘Tasting Week’!).

    So my point is simply this: the French face the same challenges we do (busy lives, long commutes, junk and fast food), and have made a decision to prioritize teaching children how to eat well in the classroom, as well as feeding them well in the lunchroom. My question is: what could we learn from them? I’m not arguing we should adopt their approach wholesale, or that we should eat exactly like the French. Rather, I hope they might inspire debate in our communities about what we might do differently.


  2. I too am married to a Frenchman and live in France. Our four children have all gone through French schools from the maternelle through to university, and I myself have taught and eaten in a range of schools, both in the UK and in France. Your article in the I newspaper and your blog had me spitting with rage. Francophiles will no doubt be raving about the heavenly picture you paint of school meals and how French children eat at home. The reality is far removed from your idealistic dream world, I have to wonder if you have ever seen the contents of the average French family’s shopping trolley, if you have you would give a more realistic picture of the eating habits of an ordinary French family. Be honest, they consume their fair share of junk food!
    As for the school canteen, the menus may be very well balanced, but you’ve obviously not seen how much goes into the waste bin at the end of the meal. Your children are still you ng, just wait till they get to the lycee age, when they’ll be lucky to have an hour to eat their meal, including waiting in the queue to get served, then having to dash off to lessons afterwards.
    Yes, French school meals are probably in a different league fron British “school dinners”, but please be honest and give everyone the whole picture, not just your own very personal untypical experiences.


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