French school lunch

A look inside a French school cafeteria kitchen

Preparing French school lunches

I have spent a lot of time this past decade visiting French school cafeteria kitchens. People around the world are very interested in how the French feed their children during the school day. However, instead of showing you the food or menus, today I show you the actual kitchen.

For details on the actual meals, have a look at “What do French school lunches look like in 2022?”

The school chef and two assistants show up at work at 7:00 am to prepare school lunches. Several hundred students will eat their mid-day meal between 12:00 and 1:00 pm. In this particular school, there are two different sittings so that children can be properly accommodated in the cafeteria space.

Please note that not all elementary schools in France have their own kitchen like the one below. Some schools, especially those in highly populated neighbourhoods, rely on a central kitchen within their school district. In these cases, the central kitchen will usually cook meals for several schools and have the lunches transported daily to its district schools.

The pantry contains dry and fresh products used during the week. Today, public elementary schools serve a minimum of 50% local or organic products. In the photos below, for example, the cheeses, lentils and pasta are organic.

After the staff make lunch, but before the children arrive, they enjoy their own meal. Note the tablecloth and baguette! Even quick lunches involve a place setting and a sit-down meal!

The meals and foods here below are ready for the hungry students.

And finally, clean up is ongoing during and after the meal. And after cleaning the kitchen and cafeteria, staff tend to other kitchen tasks. For example, they will refine the meal plan for the month depending on what the children ate. They may also place orders or make phone calls for some of their local food suppliers.

The staff’s day usually ends about 5:00 pm. At most elementary schools in France in 2022, children attend school only four days a week. Instead of going to school on Wednesdays, French children participate in their sports, arts or music activities.

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cleaning up in French school cafeteria kitchen

Photo credits: Manon Girardin and Carine Duflos