School Lunches Around The World
April 20, 2011 by KT
Filed under Kevin’s Blog
By Steven Stern
When President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act into law in 1946, he probably didn’t imagine that American schools would one day be serving chicken fingers, frozen French fries and soggy pizza.
While nutrition activists are trying to get healthier foods into our schools, we wondered what school lunch looks like in other countries — places where ketchup has never been considered a vegetable.
The Finnish educational system is often considered one of the best in the world and serving healthy school lunches is a major priority. Government regulations demand that meals are “tasty, colorful and well-balanced.” Since the late 1990s, guidelines have specified serving proportions: vegetables, cooked and raw, must cover half the plate (carrot and beet salads are popular), with proteins and starch taking up one-quarter plate each. The majority of the nation’s schools offer a vegetarian option every day. The national specialty hernekeitto, a green pea soup often flavored with smoked pork, is usually served on Thursdays in a nod to Finnish tradition.
Most Aussie kids bring their lunch from home. And most of the time, that lunch is a sandwich of cheese and Vegemite, the jam-like, salty yeast-based spread that’s been a staple since 1922. The Vegemite sandwich gets a shout-out in Men At Work’s classic antipodean anthem “Down Under.”
The sustainable food crowd loves Italy, and with good reason. The majority of Italian schools serve lunches made from organic ingredients, mostly grown nearby. The daily meal at la mensa della scuola — the school canteen –is usually centered around pasta or risotto, with salad served as a separate course. Meat shows up on the menu only a couple times a week, and in small portions. But it’s not all about nutritionally correct eating for Italian children; merendine, aka snacks, are big parts of most children’s days. Bread spread with chocolatey Nutella is a classic between-meal sweet and Italy’s kids are almost as addicted to packaged candies and cakes as their American counterparts. Italy actually has a higher proportion of overweight children than the U.S.
People who went to school in Kenya usually have strong feelings about githeri; they’re either totally nostalgic or extremely sick of it. A mixture of beans and dried corn, the dish is traditionally associated with the Kikuyu tribe, but it has become the standard school lunch throughout the country. Every day, school children line up with their plastic bowls as servings are ladled out from huge pots.
Most school cafeterias in Korea use sectioned metal trays and there’s a standard way of filling them up. The two biggest sections are for rice, usually served with pickled vegetable kimchi and soup. Smaller compartments — there’s usually three of them — hold side dishes of vegetables and fish. As for the beverage, kids are given little plastic bottles of sweet yogurt drink, hugely popular in Korea.
For many kids in Barbados, the best part of school is the morning snack of milk and biscuits — known as cookies to us Americans — provided free in all schools since the 1930s. The locally produced Wibisco brand biscuits have nourished generations of children. In 1963, the government began a hot lunch program, with meals, beans and rice, mostly, delivered by van to schools around the island.
The school day for most students in Brazil starts at 7 a.m. and runs till noon. To stave off hunger pangs during the morning hours, kids will munch on snacks like queijadinhas, which are muffins made from cheese and coconut. While many children eat lunch at home after school, the Brazilian government has sponsored a nationwide school lunch program since 1955, offering hot, healthy meals to underprivileged students.
You don’t think the French would serve their children sloppy joes, do you? School lunches are taken just as seriously as meals for adults. In fact, kids are served pretty much the same things adults eat. A week’s menu in a restaurant scolaire — the canteen of a French school — might include veal scallops Marengo, hake with lemon sauce, and lamb with paprika. Fresh bread and salad are, of course, included at every meal and fruit and yogurt are the usual desserts. The only thing the kids don’t get is wine.
In Japan, school lunch known as kyuushoku is an important part of every child’s daily schedule. Meals are eaten in the classroom; after the tables are cleared, the student assigned as that day’s lunch monitor serves everyone. Rice and fish make up the bulk of the menu, but some days students are treated to the kind of East-West comfort food that Japanese kids especially love: dishes like korokke, which are fried potato croquettes or omurice, an omelet filled with a ketchupy rice and chicken mixture.
School lunch in Zambia is nshima. Actually, pretty much everyone’s lunch in Zambia is nshima — breakfast and dinner too. The starchy dish of white cornmeal cooked to a thick, sticky dough is the staple food of the entire population. It’s eaten with your hands and dipped into relishes made from greens, dried sardines called kapenta, or stewed soy protein.
Denmark and Norway
Scandinavian school children usually bring their own lunches to school. The standard is homemade or store-bought smørrebrød, which are open-faced sandwiches of cheese, liver spread or salami on dense dark rye bread.
Multicultural Singapore is famous for its street food. Residents flock to huge outdoor food courts and buy their meals from the various hawker stands. In most schools, kids get to do the same. The canteen or “tuckshop” in a Singapore school is often a collection of different stalls rented out to private cooks. Students choose between noodle soups, curries with rice and so-called “Western” food. One typical Western lunch that kids particularly love is chicken chop, which is boneless chicken covered with thick gravy, served with either spaghetti or beans and coleslaw.
As you can see we all need to incorporate 100% raw organic food in our diet and to see the differences around the world on how we can learn from each other and our different environments and what is available that is working.