School food abroad

We get school food wrong. Fact. But it’s also a fact that abroad loads of schools do it right. So I’m going to do a bit of research and share it below.
First, my own experience. In 2002 I lived in a high school in France for 7 months. We ate in the canteen every day. There were a couple of rooms you could eat in. Lovely room for the teachers where loads of them ate, in fact probably all those who were on lunch at any given time. Lunch cost €2.20 at the time. You got a small salad or veg based starter, a main course which was normally a full plate of veg topped with some sort of meat, there were normally a couple of choices, a pudding, normally either a pastry or a yoghurt, and cheese and a bread roll. A proper meal to be enjoyed with friends. The only drink choice was water which was in jugs on the tables.
Lunch was important to the students. Most British schools now only have 40 mins for lunch. In France one of my classes demanded for my class to be moved on their timetable. It had been placed at lunchtime giving them only 1 hour for lunch. They felt this was unreasonable and that they simply didn’t have time to eat properly. This is incredible when you compare it to England! Interestingly I experienced the same thing when teaching in Spain. Companies there often give their employees restaurant vouchers, and the restaurants serve a similar basic meal to the one served in the canteen in France. The staff expect a decent lunch hour, it is more important to them to get a proper sit down meal at lunch, and they are happy to go to work earlier and leave later in order to achieve this. Again, incredible compared to England. So sad.
I found this blog post describing French school lunches. It’s the same as I experienced. Children sitting down to a proper meal, learning the importance of it. The same author also posts menus from French schools which make amazing reading. Here’s a sample one. Wow!
I’m going to share one more of her posts, which is the recipe for a popular French salad starter. You can buy this pre- prepared in French supermarkets and its nice. I’m going to try making it and see if panther likes it. But I doubt we can roll it out wholesale across the uk! And another article by the same woman, she is a bit of an authority on this I think, I’m going to try to buy her book!
It’s so sad, why can’t we have this??? Perhaps I should move back!

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Jamie’s school dinners

So, for reasons beyond the scope of this blog I’ve been off work for a week and signed off for a further month plus. Can’t really go anywhere or do anything, but luckily, because work haven’t yet thought to ask for my ipad back, I can spend my time catching up on all the tv I’ve missed. Often this means watching coronation street a couple of extra times, but I’ve also been catching up on food programmes on 4od, which turns out to save every episode of most the stuff that’s ever been on, hence plenty of mindless watching for me. We watched Jamie’s dinners in America on tv at the time, and sadly it’s not on the website, but I was out of the country when the original series was on, so we watched it straight through on Friday, except the last episode which we are watching tonight. Sorry, this is a slightly waffle post, I haven’t seen many people all week and am not that coherent, but needed something to do!
It was absolutely shocking to see what school children are served, and admittedly things have improved a bit since 2005 when this was first broadcast, but as a teacher I can definitely confirm things haven’t improved enough. Like Jamie, it makes me so sad to think that children are being served pure junk food at lunch time. And I just totally don’t understand how this happened. And I know from the food I serve panther (tonight it was slow cooked pork with potatoes, carrots and peas) that children do not innately prefer junk food. One thing that really brought it Home to me was the reluctance of the dinner ladies themselves to try new things, and their personal reliance on junk food. And that is the case at home too of course. How did things get like this?
In the programme we saw children crying because they didn’t dare try unfamiliar food. It was so sad. But we also saw Jamie successfully turn some children around. Here are some of the things he had to do:
Get them involved in food preparation
Show them what was in the food and where it came from. So many of them just completely didn’t recognise any of the fruit and veg, but they recognised all the fast food logos, even dominos pizza!
Work on the hardcore vocal ones who influence the others into refusing to try food and saying its horrible (I saw this effect in action myself on a recent school trip to paris with 15 year olds. Just one fussy student on a table would start a domino effect and influence the lot)
Convince the adults of the benefits. This was one of the hardest bits, because of course, we can say all we like that children only like junk food, but we know they shouldn’t eat it and yet we still give it them!
Give proper classes on food and nutrition

And here, based on this, is what I think the country needs to do to turn school food around. I think food in this country is in total crisis. There’s a massive job to do, but we need to start it- educate the first generation, which will be ridiculously hard, and then the job of passing food knowledge on will start happening naturally.

Compulsory classes on food and nutrition, led by properly trained teachers who understand the importance of it
Provide breakfast at school and make it compulsory and free. Canteen style would be nice for breakfast. Get children involved in serving and preparing this
Provide lunch in school and make it compulsory and free. Have children sit down with adults eating the same meal. Have no more than 2 choices and at least half a plate containing veg.
No more chip Friday. Have chips when they go appropriately with the meal. School chips aren’t nice so we certainly shouldn’t market them as a treat!
Educate the parents. Make it compulsory for them. Make sure they don’t give the children snacks when they get in. Make the school meal big enough they can last until tea, tell parents that the only post school snack the children can have is fruit, they are less likely to eat the lunch if they know they can fill up on snacks at home!
Educate the parents early as to how to wean toddlers. Make clear to them that variety is key and that it doesn’t matter if the child doesn’t eat it!

I’m so worried about what the future holds for British kids with the way food has deteriorated. I wish I was important enough to do something about it! Not least because panther will be at school on 2 years and may well want a school lunch… In fact they may even be compulsory and free for the first three years by then… Well if things stay like they are now, she will not be taking that up!

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