The Food Culture in France

Last week we wrote about Sandrine’s experiences growing up in France and how school lunch differs from American cafeteria fare. Of course, school lunch is just the tip of the iceberg.

In France, there is no commerce on Sunday so most people are at home and eat a leisurely meal that can last for hours. It is like a holiday every week. The meal is served in courses, where each might take thirty minutes or longer. That said, as a rule, the French do not graze. A meal is a meal and is aligned with family time and socialization and sitting for a while. During the week, dinner is eaten late in the day to accommodate work and school schedules, and of course, the weekday meals do not last for hours. But even in an hour or so, both lunch and dinner are consumed slowly.

On some level, eating the French way is not so different but their portions are generally half the size of what Americans are used to and wine is served with lunch and dinner. There is little in terms of fast food or prepared foods on the table and breakfast is small. It may be equivalent to a small piece of toast with coffee or hot chocolate.

There is a sense of relaxation and completeness and enjoyment aligned with food. Good, fresh, home-cooked food is desirable. Eating at a slow pace, consuming healthy fare, and socializing seem to characterize the French manner of taking meals.

Can you say La Cantine?

The American cafeteria style school lunch is going through a transition right now as people are becoming more health conscious. We touched on this last week. Rhonda thought it would be interesting to relay a little bit about the culture in which Sandrine grew up to give our American readers a different perspective.

In France, elementary school lunch is served in courses in La Cantine. The children sit down and eat at a leisurely pace. There is about a half an hour of play before lunch, and lunch lasts about thirty minutes. Then, before returning to their desks, the children play for about an hour. The school day is longer so there is ample time for the midday break.
As children age into middle school and high school, they serve themselves cafeteria style. There is a choice of appetizer, entrée and dessert. The entrée would consist of chicken or fish or another protein along with a starch like pasta or mashed potatoes, and vegetables. Appetizers might be soup or salad. Dessert would also be something on the healthy side like cheese and a piece of fruit. Sometimes, flan or yogurt with a couple of cookies would be available. What do the children drink at La Cantine? Water is the only beverage served.

The school day, and the cafeteria experience, is different in France than it is in America. Next week, we will talk about the overall food culture in France.

Packing Healthier School Lunches

Last week, Michelle Obama appeared on the Dr. Oz Show to talk about nutrition and the obesity epidemic. During the show, the First Lady presented some school meal makeovers, which gave us a great idea! Why not improve the packed lunch too? A packed lunch can be just as tasty and satisfying as one served by the cafeteria ladies. Here are some suggestions to improve nutrition and create balance:

1. Build a Better Sandwich: We talked about making your PB&J healthier, and now we suggest you do the same with all sandwiches. Swap the white bread for whole grain. When choosing lunch meat, select a kind that is low in saturated fat. Ham and turkey are good choices. When adding cheese, use a lower fat variety. If you do add mayo, use a healthy type such as those made with olive oil. Or use mustard instead! Substituting mustard for mayonnaise will not only spice up the sandwich, it will lower fat and calories! And of course, add vegetables. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and onions can be added to most any sandwich!

2. Sometimes, pack alternatives to sandwiches such as a thermos of hot soup or leftovers from a previous dinner, or pack a substantial salad. Be creative and strive for variety!

3. Instead of bags of chips, supplement school lunches with nuts, pieces of cheese, cut up vegetables, a bag of pretzels or popcorn, rice cakes, a cereal bar or yogurt. You might want to look for kid friendly yogurt like Yoplait’s Go-Gurt or Yo Kids Organic Low Fat varieties. The beauty of these products is that they come in colorful, fun containers and are attractive to children, making it more likely that the yogurt will be consumed!

4. There are many different kinds of nicely packaged sugary drinks on the market but sticking to either water or low-fat milk is a simple way to improve the overall quality of the meal.

5. Finally, pack healthier desserts. Include a fruit that keeps well in a bag lunch such as an apple, a banana, or an orange, or pack small boxes of raisins or another kind of dried fruit. If you want to send cookies along, why not pack homemade oatmeal raisin? But do choose a recipe that is low in sugar and high in fiber! Your cookies will taste much better than the kind that comes in a box and they are better for you!

Revamping the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Do you lick the peanut butter spoon when you make your kids’ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Did you know that there are about 95 calories in a tablespoon of peanut butter? This means that if you consume a spoon of peanut butter 37 times in the course of a year, that’s equivalent to 3515 calories. So conceivably, licking the peanut butter spoon while you prepare your child’s lunch can see a pound of weight gain in a year’s time. This does not mean you should forgo peanut butter. We just want you to be conscious and deliberate when you do.

For yourself and for your children, it pays to reflect on the old PB & J stand-by. Today, it is easy to find natural peanut butter. Just read the labels. Choose a brand that contains the least amount of ingredients. The primary ingredient of course should be peanuts and the fewer other ingredients the better. Or make your own variety. Miraval’s Mindful Eating cookbook cuts the calories practically in half with its recipe that relies on organic peanut butter mixed with carrots as its only ingredients.

Switch up the jelly with a fruit spread, a thinly sliced banana, or raisins. Then, substitute the white bread with a multi-grain sandwich thin. If you are home, you might want to toast a piece of whole grain bread to create a hot peanut butter sandwich. What’s on the side? Swap the bag of chips for a crisp apple or a juicy orange. And use your imagination. Peanut butter goes with everything!