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.

If you were a Parisian kid, here's what you'd be eating for lunch today…

OK, we know our school lunches are seriously lacking. But at the same time we sort of get resigned to it. Like the head of the food services program at my daycare who told me (as I was timidly asking for fresher, healthier food to be served instead of the usual stuff on offer): “kids only eat pasta and fishy crackers anyway”.

Humph. Our year in France showed me otherwise.

Here’s an actual photo of a high school lunch starter course (French school lunches usually have three courses) from a high school in Bourgoin-Jallieu (population: 25,000). As in all French schools, the daily menu offers only one choice, and students can not bring their own lunches from home.

And this is what Parisian kids ate today for lunch (in the 17th arrondissement, which is one of the middle-income neighborhoods in the city):

Menu: A Tour of Asia (yes, the school menus do have fancy titles)

Cucumber Raita
Tandoori brochette
Organic lentils
Ice cream and dried fruit

Admittedly, this is slightly out of the ordinary, as it is the French ‘Tasting Week’ this week (more on this in a moment).

But just to make my point, here is today’s menu from the 18th arrondissement, one of the lowest-income neighborhoods in Paris:

Sliced Cucumbers
Coleslaw
Ricotta and spinach tortellini
Cheese: Emmental and ‘ash heart’ (this is a mystery to me, even when translated)
Fresh tropical fruit

All over France, this is how kids eat. And it isn’t more expensive than meals in North America.

I know what you’re thinking: where do we start? More on that in my next post.

If you were a Parisian kid, here’s what you’d be eating for lunch today…

OK, we know our school lunches are seriously lacking. But at the same time we sort of get resigned to it. Like the head of the food services program at my daycare who told me (as I was timidly asking for fresher, healthier food to be served instead of the usual stuff on offer): “kids only eat pasta and fishy crackers anyway”.

Humph. Our year in France showed me otherwise.

Here’s an actual photo of a high school lunch starter course (French school lunches usually have three courses) from a high school in Bourgoin-Jallieu (population: 25,000). As in all French schools, the daily menu offers only one choice, and students can not bring their own lunches from home.

And this is what Parisian kids ate today for lunch (in the 17th arrondissement, which is one of the middle-income neighborhoods in the city):

Menu: A Tour of Asia (yes, the school menus do have fancy titles)

Cucumber Raita
Tandoori brochette
Organic lentils
Ice cream and dried fruit

Admittedly, this is slightly out of the ordinary, as it is the French ‘Tasting Week’ this week (more on this in a moment).

But just to make my point, here is today’s menu from the 18th arrondissement, one of the lowest-income neighborhoods in Paris:

Sliced Cucumbers
Coleslaw
Ricotta and spinach tortellini
Cheese: Emmental and ‘ash heart’ (this is a mystery to me, even when translated)
Fresh tropical fruit

All over France, this is how kids eat. And it isn’t more expensive than meals in North America.

I know what you’re thinking: where do we start? More on that in my next post.

What French School Kids are Eating For Lunch….this week in Paris

Paris, France’s biggest city, is an appropriate place to start our tour of French school lunch programs, which–like everywhere in France–are called ‘school restaurants’ (restauration scolaire‘ (which tells you a lot about how the French view them).

The Parisian municipal government oversees the provision of food to over 160,000 students at 719 public schools, including 339 elementary schools and 320 preschools. The cost? Subsidized meal plans (according to which families pay according to their income) mean that low-income families pay as little as 18 cents per meal (middle-income families pay $3 per meal, and the very wealthiest families pay nearly $7).

Here’s a sample menu from the 18th ‘arrondissement’, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Paris, where many families would be paying the lowest tariffs for their meals. Note that they have a fully organic meal once a week–at the same price.

Monday, September 5th
Fresh tomato salad
Beef charolais with roasted apples
Camembert
Chocolate flan with candied strawberry syrup

Tuesday, September 6th
Plain omelette
Stewed lentils
White beans with tomato sauce
Edam and mountain cheese (from southern France’s Pyrenees)
Fresh fruit

Wednesday, September 7th
Fresh greens salad with cubed mimolette cheese and rustic mustard vinaigrette
Roast turkey with onion gravy
Green peas, stewed with aromatic herbs
Belgian waffles

Thursday, September 8th
Celery remoulade (this is celery root with a mayonnaise-based dressing)
Coleslaw
Fish: Filet of hake with Basque sauce
Rice or bulghur
Cheese: Brie and Coulommiers
Ile flottante (meringue with fruit sauce)

Friday, September 9th
Weekly Organic Meal
Macaroni salad
Beef ‘springtime’ saute
Carrots with parsley
Plain yogurt
Fresh fruit

I don’t know about you, but reading these menus makes me slightly envious. What a wonderful education to be giving children: to love real food in all its variety. Later this year, I’ll blog about some of the things French schools do in the classroom to support kids emerging love of food.

Bon Appetit!