French school lunches offer a perfect representation of the distinctive and undeniable culture of food in France. Food plays a major role in the social life of French people and lunch is a major part of it.
With a minimum three course meals, the traditional French school lunch aims at providing balanced nutrition through various seasonal food. The experience goes beyond the food itself, as the meal provides also an opportunity for kids to engage in conversations and learn manners at the table, turning it into a great time for socialization.
Karen Le Billon’s excellent website highlights what makes French school lunches so special.”Mealtime is a particularly important moment in a child’s day. Our responsibility is to provide children with healthy, balanced meals, to develop their sense of taste, to help children, complementing what they learn at home, to make good food choices without being influenced by trends, media and marketing; and to teach them the relationship between eating habits and health. But above all else, we aim to enable children to spend joyful, convivial moments together, to learn a ‘savoir-vivre’, to make time for communication, social exchange, and learning about society’s rules- so that they can socialize and cultivate friendships.”
For some lucky kids, this experience is available in the heart of Los Angeles, at the Ecole Claire Fontaine in Venice Beach.
Although we live too far for my daughter to actually go to this school, we have had a chance to meet parents whose children are enrolled there. What stood out was the positive experience they had from the lunch prepared and offered onsite.
I thought it would be fun to give you a virtual tour. I met with Joelle Dumas, the founder of the Ecole Claire Fontaine. She offered me a wonderful visit and shared the philosophy behind the school, that she knew she would one day create when she was only seven years old!
Aside from the impressive curriculum that comprises a large array of activities (gardening, baking, poetry, music, astronomy, yoga…), the Ecole Claire Fontaine school’s philosophy is deeply rooted with Joelle Dumas’s own beliefs and vision of the world.
She feels that “Education, like gardening, is a process that requires time and care”.
With this universal, seasonal approach in mind, children here are developing their palate through a variety of wholesome and healthy meals and snacks. I invite you to look at the Menu to get an idea…
Every Sunday, Joelle goes to the Farmer’s Market to stock on all the fresh and organic produce for the week’s meals. The focus is on eating seasonal and local as much as possible. Fruit and vegetables are also grown in the garden at school and involve the children.
Because we are in California, kids eat dragon fuit salad, a lot of avocado…but they also get a sample of traditional French cuisine. Fresh baguettes are delivered to the school each morning.
Meals here are taken seriously: food is served on real porcelain plates with proper cutlery and glasses. Each child has his own cloth napkin with his or here name sewed on it. So cute!
The kids are naturally involved in the process of lunch preparation. They help setting up the table by placing plates, glasses, cutlery on the table.
When the food is ready to be served, the children are asked to sit at the table and they all sing along a song called…”Bon Appétit”. Seeing all the children sitting together reminded me of how sacred the ritual of sharing food is…
The assortment of vegetables that was served on that day was impressive: cauliflower, broccoli, fresh organic tomato sauce, house made guacamole, cabbage slaw…which perfectly illustrates the French approach of “taste training”.
By accustoming kids to eat a variety of meals, they naturally acquire taste and become intrepid and curious little eaters. I remember meeting a mom at the Ecole Claire Fontaine telling me that her daughter was now very naturally requesting tapenade (Provencal olive spread) for her snack!
This is such a positive and successful example! I really wanted to share this story with you. Congratulations to Joelle Dumas and her team for their awesome work.