I’m a bit of a nutrition nerd, so I jumped at the chance to go see “Fed Up” in the theatre while I was home back in the summer of 2014. The documentary discusses the dangers of sugar and explores the diabetes/obesity problems in the USA. If you haven’t yet seen it and if you’re interested in healthy living, I highly recommend that you check it out. In the film they discuss the lunches provided in public schools around the country. Having lived in France for quite some time now, I was shocked! I’m sure there are many exceptions to the rule, but the prevalence of fast food options and nutrient-empty meals was unbelievable. I was reminded of just how lucky we are in France. The school lunches in France look nothing like they do in America…
This year both children are in preschool, or maternelle as we call it here, and both are eating lunch at the cantine. We don’t have the option of sending lunches, so either they eat at school or they go home for lunch. Bringing them home for lunch every day would mean a minimum of 4 round trips to the school for me. That’s approximately 80 minutes of walking to and from school every day. Logistically speaking, that would be very difficult to manage if I hoped to get anything accomplished during the week. With that in mind, we decided to have both kids eat at school this year.
Curious as to what they serve in a French preschool cantine?
If you want to test out your French language skills, take a look at the menu below from my children’s school last week:
Assuming that the vast majority of you don’t speak French, I’ve translated the menu for you below:
Monday: Organic bread, tomato salad, roasted chicken, cauliflower in a béchamel sauce, Emmental cheese
Tuesday: Organic bread, cucumber salad, daube (beef and vegetable stew), steamed potatoes, St. Paulin cheese, Strawberry Applesauce
Wednesday: Organic bread, rice salad, filet of white fish with lemon, ratatouille, cheese, fruit *afternoon snack for those staying in daycare: dark chocolate
Thursday: Organic bread, pâté, vegetable ravioli with tomato sauce, plain unsweetened yogurt, fruit
Friday: Organic bread, mixed greens with Fourme d’Ambert cheese, filet of cod with a sauce verge (made from olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato and chopped basil), broccoli and carrot soufflé, Comté cheese, grapes
Not too shabby for a school cafeteria, if you ask me!
I also love that they keep a notebook at the front desk where they let you know how your child ate each day. Aston currently has lots of x‘s in the Je n’ai rien mangé column, meaning he didn’t eat anything other than perhaps his bread and yogurt. He also has few x’s in the J’ai gouté, mais j’ai pas aimé column. That means that he tasted his food, but didn’t like it. I consider this column a mini victory. Rare are the days where he eats enough to earn an x in the J’ai bien mangé column. When he does get the coveted x in this column, I do a mini victory dance for him right there in the entry way of the school. I know the school staff and other parents must think I’m nuts, but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. After all, I’m an American living in France. I’m used to being a bit of an oddity.
Why the victory dance? I can hear your questions now…
Wouldn’t you be better off just bringing the poor boy home for lunch and feeding him something you know he will eat?
Are you really okay with your child surviving on a plain yogurt and some organic bread for lunch?
As for bringing him home and making a meal he’ll approve of, it’s not that simple. After all, he’s 2.5 years old and what he eats literally changes from day to day. One day he’ll scarf down a bowl of radishes like they’re going out of style, while the next day he’ll declare, “I not like it any more!” What appears to be his favorite food today could very well end up dumped onto Antoine’s plate tomorrow with an undeniably adorable, but oh-so-frustrating, “No thanks, Mama. You eat it, Papa!”
When it comes to how I feel about my child subsisting off of organic bread and a plain yogurt for lunch, I have to admit that yes, I am okay with it, but for one reason and one reason only: I know it’s temporary.
I remember about three years ago when I sent my daughter into the very same school canteen as a 2.5 year old. She was one of those kids who was not interested in breakfast, so I would beg and plead just to get her to eat a few bites before starting her school day. Then, with only a minimalistic breakfast in her tiny tummy, she’d go on a mini hunger strike at lunch. She liked everything plain, sans sauce, just like her father. While she would scarf down plain steamed cauliflower at home, she would turn up her nose when they served it with a parsley sauce or a béchamel sauce at school. She loved plain tomatoes and would literally eat whole raw onions, but she absolutely hated them combined in ratatouille. Over time, however, she started to learn to taste what she was served and she was surprised to find that she actually liked some of it. Not only did she learn the importance of eating breakfast, but she is also now consistently rewarded with a smiley face and an x in the J’ai bien mangé column, even on the day when they serve brandade, a sort of puree made of salt cod fish, olive oil, garlic and potatoes…
Personally, I have to give her a round of applause for that one. Pureed fish certainly doesn’t sound very appetizing, even to me and we all know that I eat just about everything!
*Note: Following recent school-related price increases in my city, I’ve heard quite a bit of criticism amongst parents regarding school lunches. Presumably, the quality of lunches has declined, despite the increased prices. Having never actually eaten a meal in the cantine, I can’t verify if this is actually true or if it’s just a convenient arguing point for the many parents who are frustrated with the recent price hikes.