(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Friday, March 26, 2010

and now. for something a little different...

well, I commented about this on Facebook a while back...but since it seems to be all over the news in the states lately ...

kid's nutrition and school lunches. I came across a great blog while I was stuck in bed, sick, last week.

(Yes I'm pretty much out of bed now and back with the living. Although still coughing, still tiring easily ... I'm on the mend).

An anonymous school teacher and mom made the decision to eat lunch in her school's cafeteria EVERY day and then blog about it. It is entitled "Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project". She's anon because she seems convinced she is a "whistleblower" and her position would be at risk if her project were discovered. Wow. She's basically just snapping a daily photo, describing what's on offer (very diplomatically) and hosting the occasional guest blogger. And letting readers form conclusions.

The abysmal offerings and grim reports led me to think a bit about my own kid's lunch experiences at their bilingual school in Berkeley (the east bay French American school) which did not have a lunch program...but did have a garden program. And then to remember my kids' description of school lunches for the 3 weeks they visited France. Multi-course meals with entrés, main dish, cheese and desserts.

So I surfed a bit to see what I could find about France's lunches. I found an interesting article by Time Magazine about France's Nursery School Gourmets. Apparently, in Paris anyway, there is even an accompanying supplement to the school lunch outlining recommended complementary meals for dinner.

In France, food and dining are valued. School lunch menus reflect components that define French dining in general. Four- to five-course meals normal and are served over a lunch period of an hour and a half. School lunch menus are highly detailed and posted at the school every Monday and online. Parents pay for the lunches and if they can't, children are still provided the meal. The variety on the menus is impressive and here's a fact: no single meal is repeated over the 32 school days in the period, and every meal includes a starter, salad, main course, cheese plate and dessert. I'm told it is served on real plates, too, not styro trays with sporks.

You just HAVE to click over to the blog above and get a first hand glimpse of what our kids are served. Not to mention the fact that they often don't receive a large enough serving to leave feeling satisfied, even if the food is crap. The pictures alone tell the story.

I googled the 'restauration scolaire' for the Dordogne (school menu for my region) and I'd like to share a few sample menus from this week ... (here's the link)

Avocado salad with citrus
Mushroom Risotto
Fromage blanc with fruits

Shredded beet salad with black radishes
Braised fish filet with lemon butter and chives
Panier de tartiflette (this is a baked pastry wrapping sauteed veggies, ham & cheese)

Cukes & beet salad
Chicken cutlet with sauce normandy
Carrots Vichy
Pont l'eveque (cheese)
Fruit tart

Duck mousse in brioche
Paupiette of fish
Steamed potatoes and broccoli

Of course, they are also offered fresh bread and water with their meal. Now I can just hear everyone saying ... American kids won't eat that. But the question is ... why?

Kids mirror what they see. What they're taught. Using information presented. Yes, my kids didn't have a school lunch program. But in Kindergarten and beyond, they had a garden program. Each class had a tiny plot and they grew veggies and then after they were ready to harvest, they prepared things to eat with them. They saw food that didn't come from a freezer bin or vending machine. Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame, has launched numerous efforts in an attempt to improve American eating habits. one of them is The Edible Schoolyard, an organic garden project for a public middle school in Berkeley where students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting and preparing seasonal produce. Her daughter Fanny attended school with my kids, maybe she got some of her inspiration there?

Hopefully, you know that Michelle Obama is championing children's health and reducing childhood obesity. Her lofty goal is to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation. She's launched the Let's Move Project and is advocating other governmental actions. Like reaffirming the Childhood Nutrition Act which includes increasing the budget for each school lunch by a whopping 6¢ a meal (instead of the desired $1). wow. But anyway, her ideas are outlined here. And who hasn't seen the first family fooling around in the White House garden? (free material for Randal..ha)

This seems to also be the point of Jamie Oliver's new TV program in the states ... judging from reactions I've seen, he's pissed a few people off...and I know, I know celebucrap can be irritating but apparently the UK witnessed some big changes after he did a similar effort there. The school lunch system got a big boost of cash and other changes are underway. Here's an interesting NYT article on the subjects of Jamie and the 1st Lady.

One startling fact that is being broadcast via Jamie Oliver's show is that this is the first generation of American kids that is not expected to live as long as their parents. Think on that for a bit and tell me if improving eating habits is important or not.

Oh. and which one would you rather eat? (photos of recent, real school lunches from the U.S. and France, credited to anon blogger mentioned above and Deborah Madison, local foods advocate).


H.Peter said...

Je suis tres desole, mais je had to block your website on my wife's computer, parque if she will continue reading votre blog, she will want to move to France beaucoup sooner.

And I am not ready yet.

I saw jamie Oliver's TEDx Speech and then a part of his first episode.

It is just plain hurtful what we do to the kids.

Janice said...

Great blog. It is truly disgusting what we think is ok to feed our children in North America. I sat beside a woman from France at a Slow Food workshop in Torino, Italy a few years ago, and she said in her region, the kid's school lunches also had to be mostly organic as well. We should be so lucky....

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

mais, j'espère que ce n'est pas vrais HP! Throw caution to the wind et regrette rien de rien!!!

and t'is true. the list of our faux-pas is long.

Janice, why thank you kindly! of course, I'm biased (about my blog AND la belle France ... ) :P

Anonymous said...

How well I remember the menus posted outside of my daughter's maternelle. We moved to Paris for the first time when she was four. It took me a while before I realized what the other parents were attentively reading each morning (my French was pretty much non-existent when I arrived 13 years ago). The whole idea of balancing out what she ate at school for lunch with what I served for dinner was completely foreign to me. Now as a masters student I am able to dine in the hospital's cantine every day (€2,15). Of course it's the full French spread. And I am mindful of what I prepare for dinner based upon what I had for lunch. :) I love this country!

Karen in Paris

Delana said...

EXCELLENT post! I remember when my children were young and reading the school menus and being completely appalled. How can we expect our children tp enjoy healthy and delicious foods when they are inundated with chicken nuggets and pizza and canned vegetables? I am not familiar with the french school lunch program here but am continually amazed by how the french eat...on a regular basis. And they don't just eat this way for their health. They eat in a balanced, thoughtful way because they like it! Their palettes have not yet been destroyed.I hope it never changes.

Rosie said...

When my daughter has the option of staying at school for lunch or coming home to eat... she stays at school.
And I can cook, really I can.
Food in her school is super. I don't know about the others in Brittany, but I can vouch for this one.