Thought the American community would like to take a look at this article. I have been tracking school lunches in both countries for the last two years. This article is about the choices on the American school menus versus the French system in which there is no choice. Hope you find it interesting and perhaps it would open a debate on what system is more fair. Choices or equality.
I'm going to reply but base my response solely on my own experience in the American school system and from what I saw when I was an educator there. When I went to school, first in Michigan and then in upstate NY, I was allowed to choose what I wanted to eat. We were usually given a choice of a hamburger or chicken nuggets OR the menu which would have such things as spaghetti and lasagna (all REAL healthy choices as you can see). Later, in high school, I was allowed to order whatever I wanted. If I just wanted the French Fries, a coke and a Ho-Ho, that's what I would get and is what I usually got every day. Unfortunately, my thighs are STILL paying the price to this day!
When I became a teacher in upstate NY, I rarely went into the lunchroom, but I noticed that when I DID go, students had a choice of healthier items. Broccoli was served with roast beef. Turkey and mashed potatoes were served with gravy, yes, but not gobbed on like I remember from my childhood. I still saw chicken nuggets, but they were served once a week instead of every day and the soda machines were turned off so that students couldn't get at all that sugar. They might not be ideal, but I think the health standards have definitely started to improve
Thanks for your comment. When I started looking at school lunch menus around France and America I didn't do it 'scientifically.' I basically picked a town in the 'middle' of France and a town in the 'middle' of America. Actually this school lunch comparison was part of a 30 meal 'looking at the menus' between different towns in America versus France. I also looked at Albi, Nice, Nantes, Pau among others.
The comment about the rich kids came from a French reader who was responding to another article I wrote on French School Lunch compared to American School Lunch: Who Wins? . I was asking in this article on why children cannot bring packed school lunches and this is what her comment was: so that those with money who can provide decent meals didn't make those without money feel inadequate. She said it was based on tradition and from law established long ago and this is how it is.
I am not sure what your position is on the American school lunches. I wasn't sure what you meant when you said, " try making the case that food in public institutions in the USA can generally be considered enjoyable to eat, let alone edible. "
Do you think the American school system produces some good lunches? Yes, the article pointed out menus from Ames, Iowa. But if you look at menus from the town I grew up in: Toms River, New Jersey (a middle class town about an hour East of Philadelphia) you would see that the menus are worse for nutrition, variety and diversity. (If you want the link let me know- You can go onto my blog and look at the 30 meal comparison from different towns in America, Toms River , New Jersey was highlighted for about 15 of these menus. They are nearly inedible. )
Lucky for your son (and you) on his school's lunch options.
I will overlook the main weakness in this article, namely that I don't believe even by American standards that Ames, Iowa is particularly known for its gastronomy whereas there is at least one restaurant in Poitiers with a Michelin star. That being said, I agree with what I consider to be, if not necessarily the conclusions of the article, at least with the sympathies of its author.
My son has been attending a "one room" primary school in our region for the past three years. The quality of the education that he has received, particularly in the first year, is debatable, but it is indisputable that he has eaten very well. I recognise that this is not universally the case in French schools, but try making the case that food in public institutions in the USA can generally be considered enjoyable to eat, let alone edible. The school lunch time has reinforced a number of elements that we insist on at home: 1) the meal is to be eaten together at the table with the television off; 2) you try new foods before you insist that you don't like it; 3) no soft drinks at meal times, except for special occasions. The result is a youngster who generally is quite happy to eat the same meal as his parents enjoy eating and very few arguments about the acceptability of broccoli, etc. He even asked that I prepare dishes that he has first eaten at school. Compare this education with the life lessons that a poorly planned and badly prepared meal that is to be gulped down in 20 minutes or less must leave with the child.
I find the argument that rich kids are not allowed to bring packed lunches to school interesting due level social differences interesting, but not very convincing. Rich kids in France, as elsewhere, go to private or parochial schools; the packed lunch is not traditionally part of the French culinary experience and as it is probable that most of these regulations date back to a time when France was a lot more rural and poor than today, I would think that the intent of having a school meal was rather to bring up the bottom rather than to lower the top.