Sunday, March 13, 2005

Around The World On A School Lunch

Last Friday, for the first time ever, my students took a survey about what they like or don't like about our school lunches. In my 13 years of teaching service, this was the first time that our local edutocracy had ever bothered to ask the kids what they think about the food that their parents' tax-dollars subsidize. Not surprisingly, the kids couldn't resist this opportunity make known what they really thought about our school's food.

Here is a
nice little piece from England that tells us about school lunches in other parts of the world:


In France, where a school lunch can cost anything from £1.50 to £4 a head, standards are accordingly high. The average spend per child is between 60 and 70 pence.

Many schools employ their own nutritionist to liaise with the parents' committee on food. As a result, a typical menu might comprise a starter of grapefruit followed by grilled chicken with green beans, then a cheese course, with rice pudding for afters.

In Spain, it is not unusual for children to bring home a list of their school meals at the beginning of each week. Every meal is broken down into fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral content and an approximate calorific value is given. More astonishing still is the additional suggestion of what the child should be given for its evening meal, to ensure the whole day's food intake has been nutritionally balanced.
The German school day traditionally ends in the early afternoon, so pupils go home for lunch. This system is changing, however, and pupils who stay longer can eat a hot meal.

Today in Helsinki, 50,000 Finnish schoolchildren will be dining on ham and potato casserole, cabbage casserole and mashed lingonberries. Vegetarians will eat root vegetable casserole with coconut milk and beetroot casserole.

Details of the menus - mercifully, not every dish is a casserole - are flagged up four weeks in advance on the City of Helsinki Education Department website, along with the information that the most popular dishes are pasta-based casseroles, sausage soups, barley porridge and spinach pancakes.


British expatriates are generally amazed at the standard of food offered in Italy's schools. New laws passed in 2000 oblige local authorities to include organic and quality products on their menus, and schools spend 70-90 pence per child.

In the private school sector, children can expect to eat the sort of trendy dishes more usually served up in restaurants, such as penne alla vodka.

Yet the globalisation of fast food culture is taking its toll, even on those ideally placed to take advantage of a healthy Mediterranean diet. According to the International Obesity Task Force, an arm of the World Health Organisation, 36 per cent of Italian children are overweight. This compares with 22 per cent in Britain and 19 per cent in France.


For those concerned about the standards of school meals in Britain, the Japanese model may have a certain appeal. An average lunch consists of a bottle of milk, a bowl of rice, some type of fish, pickled salad, soup with tofu and vegetables and a piece of fruit.

More crucially, everyone at school, including the teachers, secretaries and principal eats the same lunch.

Finally, this piece of advice is offered as a means for improving Britain's school lunches:

Given the commotion caused by the film Supersize Me, where Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but junk food for a month, to the great detriment of his health, it might be a good idea to compel headteachers in Britain to eat the same food as their children.

Were adults obliged to dine on reconstituted meat shapes, chips and beans every day, they might finally have a real incentive to rethink their menus.

Here at the 'Wonks, we wonder how much our student lunches would improve if Secretary Of Education Margaret Spellings and her legion of Washington educrats also ate the same food as our students.

An Invitation: All writers and readers of education-related posts are invited to contribute to the sixth edition of The Carnival of Education. Please send your submissions to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] com. We should receive your contributions no later than 10:00 PM (Pacific) Tuesday, March 15, 2004. The Carnival midway will open here at the 'Wonks Wednesday morning.

For the latest edition of The Carnival Of Education, please click here.

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