What's for school lunch in France's poorest town this week? Sautéed veal and celery salad, roast pork and cauliflower-curry casserole…and more!

My ‘French Kids’ School Lunch Project’ is back by popular demand! (For a full explanation of how school lunches are organized in France, click here.)

I blogged last year about menus in France’s poorest town: Denain. It’s a small town (population: 20,000) in northern France. It used to be one of the country’s wealthiest industrial cities (and was known as the ‘city of a thousand chimneys’). Denindustrialization, the decline of France’s domestic textile industry, and the closing of the town’s last steel mill in the 1980s have changed the town’s fortunes dramatically. It now has the highest unemployment rate and lowest average household income in France.

Last year, I checked the menus at the local schools, to see whether they would be offering the same types of food as elsewhere in France. And I was pleasantly surprised (see a menu from last year). This year’s menus look similarly wonderful–tasty and nutritious.

As everywhere in France, there are four courses, but unlike the primary and preschools, the high school kids actually get one choice for the main course. No vending machines are allowed in schools (this is a national policy), and kids are strongly discouraged from bringing lunches from home. Given that this sounds better than many of my work lunches this week, I’m doubting that many of them want to!

By the way, I explain more fully in my post on French school lunches that there is no national school lunch program in France. These meals are organized and funded by the local community. Parents pay different rates per meal, more or less related to income (so wealthier families pay more, and poorer families pay less). These menus are an inspiring example of what local communities can do when they decide that good food–and teaching children to love healthy food–is really a top priority.

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, usually one piece per child!) and water. No flavoured milk, juice, sports drinks, or pop. No fast food or junk food. Food for thought!

Monday, October 15th
Salad: ‘Marco Polo’ salad (Pasta salad with tagliatelle, seafood (e.g. crab, shrimp), and vegetables (peppers, tomatoes)
Main: Roast Pork or Fish Filet with ‘provencale’ sauce (tomatoes, onions, olives, and Herbes de Provence like rosemary and thyme) with Cauliflower-Curry Casserole
Cheese/Dairy: Saint Paulin (a mild, creamy, soft cheese originally made by Trappist monks)
Dessert: Fresh apple slices

Tuesday, October 16th
Salad: Fresh ‘market greens’ salad
Main: Mushroom crepes (or ground beef) with green beans, with cubed roast potatoes
Cheese/Dairy: Tomme de Savoie (a hard, mild-tasting cheese somewhat like old cheddar)
Dessert: An orange

no school

Thursday, October 18th
Salad: Tomato and celery salad
Main: Omelette with herbs or carbonade flamande (a traditional Belgian sweet-sour beef and onion stew) with garlic carrots and fried potatoes
Cheese/Dairy: none (probably because the meal is so rich!)
Dessert: Fruit ‘velouté’ (a fresh fruit pudding a bit like a smoothie) with ‘Galette sablé’ cookies (a bit like shortbread)

Friday, October 19th
Salad: Soup ‘Crécy’ (a simple carrot soup with thyme)
Main: Sautéed veal or filet of sole, with pasta (macaroni elbows) and creamed spinach
Cheese/Dairy: Camembert
Dessert: A kiwi

If you’re interested in other menus, you can check them out here (in French!). French schools usually post their menus online for parents to consult–partly to do their own menu planning (as the French prioritize variety, they would try to avoid serving the same thing at dinner if their child had eaten it for lunch), and partly just to share information–because the French love talking about food, and knowing what their kids have eaten!

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.