Souvenirs from France: Newspapers, New Ideas, and Reflections on School Food

May 08, 2007

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

Jean attended the International Exchange Forum on Children, Obesity, Food Choice and the Environment in the Loire Valley of France from April 22-27. You can read her postings from the forum in the International Forum section of HSC’s blog.

It’s great to go away, but it’s even better to come home!

I can’t wait to share what I learned in France at the exchange forum in more detail.

I hope you will be able to join us for Lunch & Learn: International Perspectives on Childhood Obesity and School Food either next week, on May 16, in Lombard or on May 24 in Chicago. Both events – which take place from noon until about 1:15 – include a fabulous healthy lunch in addition to an exciting discussion about food, culture, and children’s health. (Not signed up yet? Click here to register online.)

Our visit to France for the International Exchange Forum was well noted by the French media. Upon my return, I discovered two French newspaper articles and a segment on a regional French television news program that ran stories about our visit two weeks ago. The French press were very interested to learn about — and report on — what we thought were the important differences between American and French school lunches.   

The list of specific differences we noticed is, of course, a long one —  but probably the most significant point to note is the importance that the French education system places  on school lunch and its role in the school day.

All schoolchildren in France participate in the school lunch program, regardless of their family’s economic status.  Most elementary schools devote almost an hour and a half to lunch and recess, which includes 30 to 40 minutes for the children to eat lunch. 

It’s easy to note the differences in our country’s political and economic systems and decide that it would be impossible for the U.S. school lunch program to be “more French” and that we will therefore simply maintain its status quo. But — and this is exciting — I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Every day, we learn about great programs that are going on around the United States. Awareness is growing about how critical it is for us to make changes to the current school food system. Our ongoing challenge is to work with school officials, teachers, parents, students, and policy makers to determine how we can incorporate some of these important lessons we have learned from the French school food system.