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French school lunch

French nutritional guidelines for school lunches

French nutritional guidelines

What are French nutritional guidelines for school lunches? We know French school lunches are amongst the healthiest in the world.  But what does that actually mean?   A government decree from 2011, updated in 2019, focuses on the nutritional quality of the meals served in school cafeterias.  Furthermore, these French nutritional guidelines are in addition to, and indeed pre-date, the latest regulations in effect as of January 1 this year, requiring at least 50% of menus to include organic and/or local products. So, these excerpts below help illustrate the nutrition on offer.

Basic French nutritional guidelines of school lunches
  • Lunches served in school cafeterias must contain a main dish, a side dish, a dairy product and a starter and/or dessert.
  • In addition, the variety of meals should include a rotation of at least 20 meals.
  • Portion sizes should be adapted to the type of dish served and the age of the children. 
  • Water should be available without restriction.
  • However, salt and sauces (such as mayonnaise, vinaigrette, and ketchup) are not available without restriction and are available depending on the meal being served.
  • Furthermore, fresh bread must be available without restriction.
Specific foods and quantities each month

The following frequencies below mentioned are based on a rotation of 20 meals in order to guarantee the necessary quantities of fiber and vitamins for children.

  • At least 10 meals with raw vegetables or fresh fruits
  • In addition, at least 8 meals served with fresh fruit as dessert.
  • 10 meals served with cooked vegetables, other than “dry vegetables” (lentils, beans, chickpeas).
  • 10 meals served with dry vegetables, starches or dry cereals (wheat, rice, corn).
  • A minimum of 8 meals with cheese containing at least 150mg of calcium per portion
  • A minimum of 4 meals with cheese containing at least 100mg of calcium per portion
  • At least 6 meals with dairy products containing at least 100mg of calcium and less than 5g of fat per portion
  • At least 4 meals with non-ground meat including beef, veal, or lamb 
  • A minimum of 4 meals with fish or a dish with at least 70% of fish and containing at least two times more protein than fat
  • Less than 4 meals with meat, fish or eggs where the dish contains less than 70% of these products
  • At most 4 main dishes with fatty foods (foods that have more than 15% fat)
  • At most 3 desserts with fatty ingredients
  • No more than 4 main dishes or side dishes with fried or pre-fried products
  • At most 2 main dishes that have as much fat as they do protein
  • No more than 4 desserts with added sugar that also have at least 15% fat
  • A minimum of 10 meals with raw vegetables or fresh fruits.
Cultural norms on display

There are many cultural norms included within these French nutritional guidelines. For example, the French love their bread, cheese and dairy.  In addition, the moderation principle in in full view.  For instance, school chefs make a place for sweet desserts and fried and fatty foods. However, they are limited to a certain number per rotation of 20 meals.  In addition, variety in the menus is prioritized.  Thus, no meal at an elementary school will be repeated within the same month.  Therefore, the sheer variety of foods included within one month of school lunches is one of the key reasons French children eat (or at least try) virtually anything!

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1 Comment

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