France bans vegetarian school meals

Should the government be allowed to choose what our children eat? What about in religious circumstances seeing as French society is secular? I know that schools in the UK have started giving parents guidelines for packed lunches and checking what children eat, but as far as I know they have never force-fed the children anything. Is this right?

It's not complicated to do, once the chef has adopted a different way of working. The canteen-faciities are catering about 120 children ranging from the "petit section" up to CE2 in four shifts. The menu is put together one month in advance (making planning and logistics easier) Meals are prepared daily and contain about 85% of fresh, seasonal produce, sourced locally.The left-overs are collected and go to the local pig-farm that gives very favorable prices for their produce in return.

But in this system, like in a lot of schools, it is not possible to cater every lifestyle. We have kids in school that are vegetarian, practicing muslim or Jewish and preparing everything separate would enhance the costs enormously for the individual cases or considerably if they continue to maintain one price for every kid.

We had a fridge in the school were kids (vegetarian, etc. but also those with allergies to some foodstuffs) could place their lunch bags; they paid a small fee for drinks and the use of the canteen-facilities. Unfortunately, the regional "académie" had these fridges suppressed for reasons of hygiene. And some of these kids now simply eat in the canteen , but avoid the food they can't or want to eat. But I imagine this to be very difficult if the canteen of your school is preparing stuff primarily based on industrial products.

At our school it's not possible to do packed lunches, the kids either eat at the canteen, which is a 4 course meal - no turkey twizzlers in sight, or, you go home, end of story. I did a blog about it when I was trying to get into blogging (and failed miserably)!

I do tend to agree with Catherine, when you are small, you are probably not the best judge of what you should be eating (most kids would choose a bag of crisps and a bottle of pop over a balanced diet any day, I know I would)! So I do expect the school to be 'in loco parentis' and provide them with a choice that can not be argued with and I do not expect them to cater to every child's whims. Kids can be picky when they are doing the cooking.

There are, I guess (never having been there for lunch duty, but having heard the many comments and complaints) far easier Dervish dances than that. The Rottweiler one, hohohoho, does not attract volunteers, least of all the parents of said precious ones. One friend who is a parent eleve here suggested I stand this autumn, I am less than three years out of the last experience and still having withdrawal symptoms. I gave her a feeble excuse, one part of which was that people who do that get drawn into 'volunteering' for all manner of things, such a 'shotgun' at lunch time. I already do Lascaux, Museum of Prehistory and archaeology type trips so my excuse is that is enough. There we can talk again about packed lunches, made up by cook which have crisps and nasty jelly sweetie things that colour one's tongue blue included but no real stuff like, dare I say it, fruit...

Lunch duty sounds hilarious (although probably not for those on Rottweiler detail...)

I see both perspectives and neither is easy. In two places in the UK I was a school governor - once as a 'duty' governor as the chair of a parish council and in the other as a parent governor. In the first case it was a rural school with children dispersed over a wide area, few if any went home for lunch. The others with special needs had packed lunches. They were 'contained' in part of the canteen and had to clear up all 'mess' and tidy away like those who had lunches. Certain things were banned for obvious reasons.

The other school, urban and with a very specialised special needs section, had problems. Firstly there were diabetics including a type 1 who had a monitor and insulin feed attached permanently. His diet was highly regulated as too were the other children with diabetes. Then there were some Moslems, a couple of Hindus and quite a few children of 'alternative' people. A few just plain refused school lunches and had packed lunches. The school needed several duty rota parents in to help supervise that because staff could not stretch to the task. Separating diet groups was hellish because it worked like an apartheid system with diabetics guarded to make sure no Jammy Dodgers, crisps or whatever got in there, the alternative children had to be protected from swapping their cheese and lettuce for sausage rolls or ham sandwiches and the religious groups from the latter plus other things. The chef had been asked to think about having having a further choice but using City of Swansea regulations was not allowed to provide things that would have covered even the majority (e.g. everybody except diabetics). That is the sticking point and I bet it is what is much of the problem here. I must say that where my daughters go the food might be a typical UK school for its 'orginality' (lack of...) but that there are several courses although no choice. The next nearest school is pretty well the opposite.

Personally I am 100% in favour of banning packed lunches. Having done my time in the UK attempting to provide a nutritionally balanced and socially acceptable, packed lunch (surely fruit gums and cherry coke count as part of your 5 a day??), I love the fact that there is no choice.

Kids are pressured by everything; parents, peers and teachers. And I think when they are small, they are incapable of deciding / choosing to be veggie and if they are, are more than likely being encouraged to be so. Eating meat at school is not going to do them any harm and unlikely to traumatise them on a permanent basis. I think 2,50 is cheap given the general quality of French school dinners. Mind you, this is just my experience ( 3 kids, 9 years here and 8 schools) but maybe yours are being fed turkey twizzlers in which case I get where you are coming from! xx

Wow, our school lunches are 4.80€ and 5.30€ for a 5 year old and a 7 year old! They do get 4 courses though, all freshly made but 2.50's a bargain!

Interesting question indeed. My younger daughter is gradually becoming vegetarian and we have talked about it. If school took the possibility away from her then she would have to have home lunches but we are 20 minutes drive each direction in good weather so it would go beyond her to us as well. She often simply asks not to have red meat on her plate and the cook is sympathetic enough to not question that. There are vegetarians, plus a few Moslem and Jewish children so some flexibility is required anyway. It would be a self-defeating exercise for a wholesale ban to be put in place because the mairies would me forced to deal with it and questions about charging would certainly arise before any other. If the government tries then one might predict one of their almighty failures would be on the menu.

But why shouldn’t there be a vegetarian option? Why shouldn’t schools cater to the needs of all their children? All it takes is a simple poll at the beginning of term to see who is vegetarian or not. The problem is that many kids (not all) may feel pressured by teachers into eating the meat. I know i was more scared of the teachers than my parents when i was little. Also what if they just put the meat on the plate? Many vegetarians don’t like to even use cutlery that has touched meat, nevermind having it staring up at them from their own plate. What I disagree with mainly is that it’s taking away the parents right to choose what they feel is right for their own children. There is no proof that a meat-based diet is better for you than a vegetarian diet, in fact there is plenty of proof of the opposite. So any argument based on health grounds is just rubbish. I also don’t understand why packed lunches are banned either. If the schools won’t provide what the parents want for their kids, why can’t the parents? 2,50 for a school meal? If you have 2 kids at school that’s 20 euros a wek (not counting wednesdays). Add that up for a year and school meals suddenly become very expensive. A lot more expensive than sending kids in with packed lunches. Now i see why they want to make it obligatory for everyone! And don’t even get me started on foie gras. And no I am not a vegetarian.

As for mr. McArthy's concern's: the chef of our school's canteen is a proud man. Not only as a person, but also with respect of the ingredients he uses. Only free range chicken, Limousine beef, happy pigs, boar, deer and rabbits shot during the hunting seasons trout from the local fish-farm. And of course veggies procured from the local farmers. And it only costs about 2,50 Euros per meal....

Wow, never heard of a French school banning veggie meals. Even my carnivore kids (you know the kind of: "quel cuisson pour ton steack hachée?: bleu s'il te plait") have been tricked into eating veggie stuff every once a while. But if your kid is on a vegetarian diet because you choose to follow that (or any way for that matter) way of living you can't expect a school kitchen/ cafeteria to follow that. If a kid doesn't want to eat they're not force-fed indeed and they'll be very hungry when they get home, that's all. Your kids won't be force-fed and slaughtered to obtain their "foi-gras" isn't it?