This article is an investigation of why French children are not fat, the local town council toured me in the canteens and kitchens of the public schools, where I could ask any kind of question. There are many theories as to why the French, and particularly French children, do not suffer from weight problems, obesity, diabetes or hypertension as their American counterparts. Eating moderate amounts of fresh foods and freshly prepared dishes at certain times of the day is definitely one of the most compelling reasons for how to stay slim. Another way is with the daily exercise, divided into three periods (two of 15 minutes and one of 60 minutes every day) and walking or cycling to school.
So, what do French children eat at school?
The menus are designed for up to two months in advance by the manager of the canteen management, and then sent to a certified nutritionist who makes small “corrections”. The nutritionist could change the postra, a small eclair of chocolate for a kiwi, if he thinks it’s too much sugar for the week. Or you can modify the suggested menus, adding or removing carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits or proteins, so that it is well balanced. Almost all foods are prepared in the kitchen; They are not frozen foods. This means that every day they prepare mashed potatoes, most desserts, soups, salads and main courses. Sweets are included-occasionally it can be a piece of cake, a spoonful of ice cream, a delight of the local patisserie. Check these photos of the preparation of a lunch at a school.
Where come the food from?
All our fruits and vegetables, fish and meat on France schools are from the area arround them, some of them from local fields,” , the city councilor in charge of school affairs, including the canteen. The bakery in the area distributes fresh bread every morning, which is essential for every French meal. Every two days there is at least one organic ingredient on the menu. Once a month, a complete meal is organic. The only thing they offer to take during lunch is filtered water, served in glass jars.
Equally important: the way children eat.
As the children arrive at the canteen, they sit at tables ready for 4 people and wait for a larger and more willing student to bring the first course to the table. The child who sits in the designated “red” chair is the only one who can fetch more water in the jar, more bread for the bread basket or ask for more food for the table. After finishing the first course (usually salad), the volunteers bring the main course and the children serve themselves. Then comes a cheese (usually a yogurt or for example, a small piece of Camembert), and finally the dessert (usually fresh fruit). “We do our best to vary the menus in the week and month, but there are foods that children do not like very much,” explains Cahuzac. “We always ask children to at least taste everything and eat as much as they can before rejecting the food they do not like.” “Eating balanced food, sitting and calm, is very important for the development of the child’s health,” adds Cahuzac. “This helps them digest food properly, avoid stomach pains, and avoid energy slumps in the afternoon.”
What happens with the exercise?
The French specialize in moving around all the time, not just during a biweekly gym class. For example, elementary school children have three established periods of recess: 15 minutes to run in the morning, 60 minutes after lunch and another 15 minutes of afternoon recess. In addition to these designated times, they motivate children to go walking or cycling to school, although it depends a lot on the distance between school and home. The bicycle parking lots of our local school, usually is always full in the morning, while the youngest are going to school with an adult next door, and those who are in the 5th grade, usually leave alone. In addition to the two periods of one hour of gymnastics, children usually walk when they go for a walk outside of school (which can include anything like an hour to the local bookstore, visit to local farms, visits to the shores of lakes for paddleboard lessons, or a walk to the local mountain). During the younger years, they emphasize walking-in fact children from 3 to 4 years of age, in pre-school stage will walk 2 kilometers in a slow to go to the local library. Sometimes they walk to the nursing homes to sing to the elders.
“Even the youngest preschool children walk together every week,” explains Cahuzac. “Those who complain constantly, still follow the group and finally get the habit of walking.” Primary school children in large cities in France also walk around a lot – it’s easier for them because there are sidewalks. Or use a trottinette (mini scooter). “My first-grade son liked them so much that his dad went and bought one for him,” said Tina Isaac-Goizé. “He gives her another good reason to like going to school, in addition to the exercise, it takes half as much time as if he were walking.”
So what can we do to promote better nutrition and movement habits for our children?
Everything starts at home: We know what healthy foods are, and we need to use our positive influence to feed our children with healthier foods and teach them to eat healthy and exercise regularly with the example. Homemade food based on fresh products, and a weekly family walk or game of catching oneself are simple habits that can make a difference in a child’s lifestyle over time. What’s up with the school? Two suggestions: if healthy options are not available at your school, send them snacks and a healthy lunch at home, so they do not eat from the fast food in the cafeteria. Then, contact elected officials at your community, state and national level and demand better nutrition at your school.