Wednesday, January 25, 2012

School Lunches -- French Style

Cheering on the kids as they do a dance for us!

  For the third time this season, my teammates and I visited a local school this week for a little community outreach.

  While there, we answered questions, played basketball, signed autographs, and ate lunch with the kids. It gave me the opportunity to see what the French schools are like; the buildings themselves, what a kid's day is like, and what their school lunch looks like.

Funny Interactions
  I love hearing the questions the children have. Just like in the States, the first question is usually: 'how tall are you?' followed by: 'can you dunk?' Though, they come up with some interesting questions too such as, 'how old were you when you scored your first basket?' And some funny questions for me, the American: 'do you know Rihanna?' or 'do you know Tony Hawk?'

Q & A time!
  While eating lunch, the kids at my table try to think of any and everything they know in English. While I do my best to muster up something to say to them in French. Most of the time it results in them asking basic questions in French, and me answering in English. It's kind of a funny interaction, but we make it work.

  It's fun to interact with the kids. Though I'm sure it would be a lot more fun if I could communicate with them a little bit better. Kids are entertaining in any language, and I look
forward to going back and visiting more schools
in the next few months!

Lunch Time
  The most interesting thing to me though, was the school lunches. In the US, what we feed our kids at school has, and probably always will be a topic for great discussion. With school district's budgets becoming tighter and tighter, feeding kids a quality meal at school is becoming more and more difficult.

  While it's been some time since I've seen a school lunch in the US, it's safe to say things haven't changed that much, for the better anyways (ahem, pizza = vegetable?).

Kids' time to play!
  Two of the schools we visited were elementary schools. At the elementary level, parents have two options for their kids during the lunchtime period: 1) pick their children up, and have them eat at home; (It is my understanding that the kids have an hour and a half for lunch. So that gives parents plenty of time to pick them up, take them home, have them eat, and get them back to school for the second part of the day.) or, 2) pay a bit extra (2-4 Euros per day, depending on parents' income) and have their children eat a 'hot lunch' at school.
No Brown Bag Lunches
  One thing I did NOT notice was kids bringing lunch from home. If they stayed at school for lunch, they ate what the school provided. This is obviously a very different system than what we're used to seeing in the States.

Cantine -- isn't it more family-style?
  Another difference I noticed, was that the kids don't eat in their homeroom classrooms. They don't have a traditional cafeteria either. They eat in what they call cantines.

  It's more of a family atmosphere, where between four and six kids share a table. They have regular plates, silverware, and glasses on the table (not plastic/paper plates, or infamous 'sporks').

  Once seated, the 'lunch ladies' (for lack of a better term) brought in the 'first plate' of lunch. It might be a carrot salad (like we ate at the first school we visited), or a light pastry with cheese (like we ate yesterday). The kids dish up their own portions, and yes, they all ate at least a little bit of carrot salad.

Plate Stacking
  After they're done with the first course, very systematically, the kids put all remaining food onto one plate, and one by one pass their plates to the front of the table for the lunch ladies to come by and clear. I later asked my teammates if they are taught this as children, because it's what my teammates do when we have a team meal together as well. In fact they are taught to clear their tables, and pass their plates to the front. I think that's a very cool thing to teach their kids. Nothing like learning a little responsibility and manners in the lunch room!

Elodie dishing up some carrots for a kiddo!
  Then the lunch ladies come back with round two. Both times we ate lunch, the main course was meat and vegetables.

  Again, the kids take turns dishing up their own portions. And if the child is too small (some of the kids were as young as six years old at my table), one of the room monitors/lunch ladies helps them out. Bread is also brought out at this time and placed on the table (which happened to be organic bread, by the way).

  When finished, once again, the kids clear their tables and their plates.

  Finally, dessert is brought out. Dessert consisted of clementine oranges, and/or yogurt (organic as well).

Lunchtime Drinks
  One thing that should be mentioned is what the kids had to drink. Their only option was water. A pitcher of water was placed on each table at the start of lunch, and if they ran out, one of the kids could go refill it for the rest of the table.
Our lunch yesterday -- roast beef, veggies, & couscous.
  Sure, the menus are very basic. And the kids have very little room for choice. But they are given real food. Not french fries, chicken nuggets, or pizza. They give them true vegetables, fruit, and meat. I'm sure there are days when the kids do have french fries and pizza, but it is not an option for them every day.

  From what I saw, the kids ate what they put on their plate, and they all had a very healthy portions (unless they were just trying to show off for us).

Wouldn't Fly in the US
  One thing I kept thinking to myself while I was sitting at the table, was how much complaining a kid in the US would be doing if we brought out water, vegetables, meat, and clementines for them to eat at lunch. Maybe the French kids do complain, but they ate the food nonetheless!

  I know there are things I don't understand about the French school lunch program, exactly how they pay for it etc...but it seems to me, the US school lunches have great room for improvement.

  Providing kids with proper nutrition is a very important thing. While, as kids, we think it's great (woo hoo, pizza and chocolate milk!), we're not doing them any favors. I hope, somehow, we can improve the quality of the food we give our kids at school! What do you think?

~ Happy Wednesday!
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  1. Last week I was scolded by the lunch ladies for trying to take 2 scoops of lettuce at the newly introduced salad bar. I was not a happy camper and boycotted school lunch. The next day people were offered a behemoth scoop of tater tot hot dish, and all 3 desserts - cake donut, cherry cobbler, and fluffy marshmallow fruit salad. What the heck? Might have to march again, for a cause. No wonder we're fatties.

    1. You got yelled at for taking too much lettuce?? But they piled on cheap potatoes & We're so backwards, it's ridiculous. Yeah, lets march!