I’m nostalgic for my school lunches. Chicken nuggets. Walking tacos. Pizza! But most of the foods I remember have more in common with fast food than with a balanced meal. The menu looks a bit different in France.
French school lunches emphasize health and balance (and they often include foods that American kids might try to hide under their napkins).
What’s on a Typical French Lunch Menu?
First difference? French lunches have multiple courses! They start with a vegetable, such as a leafy lettuce salad, a cucumber tomato salad or beets. Next up is a warm main dish, which almost always includes another veggie. Think sliced roast beef with baked potatoes, veal with mushrooms and broccoli or breaded fish with cauliflower. Sliced bread and butter come on the side, as well as one or two pieces of cheese. (Can cheese be healthy? We investigate.)
Then, in an unexpected twist, the lunch ends with a dessert. Often, this means a piece of fruit, like a kiwi or peach. However, sweet treats like apple tart or ice cream also appear. The menu isn’t about dieting or restriction—it’s about balance, and taking pleasure in food.
If this seems like a hefty meal, it is! The lunch provides about 40% of students’ calories for the day. Most French children also eat a breakfast, small after-school snack and a dinner rather late, around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.
Find a healthy school lunch to pack your fussiest child.
What Else Do French Schools Do Differently?
Up until students are about 12, French schools are called “restaurant schools.” They have cooks on-site, as well as servers who will even cut up kids’ food if needed. Local food is used whenever possible. Plus, a dietitian reviews menus in advance and makes substitutions as needed (swapping a dessert for a piece of fruit, for example).
The kids get at least 30 minutes to eat, and they’re meant to take their time and enjoy the food. Oh, and water is the beverage of choice versus juice or milk.
Why Are French Lunches So Different?
First, the French culture emphasizes the importance of food, especially local foods and well-prepared dishes. While American parents might think it’s normal to serve a fussy child bland foods like chicken tenders, French parents usually insist that their children eat like the grown-ups do, considering it a positive for them to be exposed to many flavors and textures at a young age.
Psst: We’ve got secret weapons for feeding fussy eaters.
Second is way school lunches are organized. French school lunches are put together by local communities, rather than being dictated by a national program. That gives schools more flexibility to source local foods and arrange for cooking.
How Much Does a French School Lunch Cost?
Drumroll, please… The average price a student pays for lunch is roughly $3.50. Be right back, moving to France!
1 / 35Taste of Home
Zucchini & Sweet Corn Souffle
As novice gardeners, my husband and I sowed zucchini seeds—15 hills’ worth! Happily, my family requests this corn souffle side dish often, so it’s a keeper. —Carol Ellerbroek, Gladstone, IllinoisGo to Recipe
Beef Stew Provencal
When I was young, my favorite food to order in a restaurant was beef stew. My mother and I decided to create our own and experimented with different ingredients until we came up with this recipe. Everyone liked this slow cooker version so much that now it’s a tradition every time the whole family is together. —Chelsey Larsen, Sparks, NevadaGo to Recipe
It takes just two ingredients to make these impressive but easy-to-do French pastries, which are often called palm leaves. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, WisconsinGo to Recipe
Classic French Onion Soup
Enjoy my signature French onion soup the way my granddaughter Becky does: I make onion soup for her in a crock bowl, complete with garlic croutons and gobs of melted Swiss cheese on top. —Lou Sansevero, Ferron, UtahGo to Recipe Editor’s tip: Pair this soup with a fresh hunk of a French baguette (here’s how to make a baguette, step by step).
Strawberry Creme Crepes
I always feel like a French chef when I serve these pretty crepes. Although they take a little time to prepare, they’re well worth the effort. My guests are always impressed. —Debra Latta, Port Matilda, PennsylvaniaGo to Recipe
Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu
“Cordon Bleu” is a French phrase meaning “blue ribbon”—given as a prize for culinary excellence. The term also refers to a signature dish of chicken topped with a slice of ham and Swiss cheese, usually breaded and sauteed, or in this case, wrapped in puff pastry for a quick and easy finish. —Sharon Laabs, Hartford, WisconsinGo to Recipe
My kids love to help me make this delicious bread recipe. It’s quite easy, and they enjoy the fact that they can be eating fresh bread in less than two hours! —Denise Boutin, Grand Isle, VermontGo to Recipe (Learn more about other types of French bread.)
My son and I love having a croque-madame (a fried egg atop our grilled ham and cheese) for lunch. If eggs aren’t your favorite, you can make the sandwich without it (which makes it a croque-monsieur). —Carolyn Turner, Reno, NevadaGo to Recipe
Balsamic Roast Chicken
As far as roast chicken ideas go, this recipe is one of our favorites. When the aroma from this dish fills your house, your family will think you spent all day cooking. But this elegant Sunday-special roast chicken, flavored with rosemary, wine and balsamic vinegar, is surprisingly simple to make. —Tracy Tylkowski, Omaha, NebraskaGo to Recipe
Vanilla Cream Fruit Tart
It’s well worth the effort to whip up this creamy fruit tart bursting with juicy berries. A friend gave me the recipe, and it always receives rave reviews at gatherings. —Susan Terzakis, Andover, MassachusettsGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Ham ‘n’ Cheese Quiche
When I was expecting our daughter, I made and froze this cheesy ham quiche as well as several other dishes. After her birth, it was nice to have dinner in the freezer when my husband and I were too tired to cook. —Christena Palmer, Green River, WyomingGo to Recipe
You may be tempted to save these chocolate truffles for a special occasion since these smooth, creamy chocolates are divine. But with just a few ingredients, this truffle recipe is easy to make anytime. —Darlene Wiese-Appleby, Creston, OhioGo to Recipe
Baba au Rhum Cakes
Dry and candied fruit stud this baba au rhum. The rum is subtle, so it is suitable as a dessert or on a brunch buffet. —Diane Halferty, Tucson, ArizonaGo to Recipe
Veggie Nicoise Salad
More and more people in my workplace are becoming vegetarians. When we cook or eat together, the focus is on fresh produce. This salad combines some of our favorite ingredients in one dish…and with the hard-boiled eggs and kidney beans, it delivers enough protein to satisfy those who are skeptical of vegetarian fare. —Elizabeth Kelley, Chicago, IllinoisGo to RecipeTaste of Home
These warm spiced pears elevate slow cooking to a new level of elegance, yet they’re incredibly easy to make. Your friends won’t believe this fancy-looking dessert came from a slow cooker. —Elizabeth Hanes, Peralta, New MexicoGo to RecipeTaste of Home
This rich and flavorful ratatouille is the perfect salute to the harvest. Hearty and full of veggies, it fills the kitchen with the comforting aroma of thyme, onions and garlic. —Diane Trester, Sheboygan, WisconsinGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Cranberry Creme Brulee
Dress up classic creme brulee with an easy-to-make cranberry sauce. The sweet-tart sauce compliments the rich, creamy custard. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
Beef Burgundy Over Noodles
I got this delightful beef burgundy recipe from my sister-in-law many years ago and have used it ever since. Whenever I serve it to guests, they always request this. The tender beef, mushrooms and flavorful sauce are delicious over noodles. —Margaret Welder, Madrid, IowaGo to Recipe
You don’t have to be an expert in French cooking to whip up these sandwich cookies. The crisp, chewy macarons require attention to detail, but they’re not hard to make—and they’re simply a delight, both for personal snacking and giving as gifts!
—Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to RecipeVitylia/Shutterstock
How to Clean Leeks the Easy Way
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Chocolate Crepes with Raspberry Sauce
Everyone at the table will feel special eating this scrumptious treat. Seemingly rich and decadent, these crepes are just 2 grams of fat per serving! —Rebecca Baird, Salt Lake City, UtahGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Provencal Ham & Bean Soup
There is nothing quite like the wonderful feeling of when you open the door and smell this delicious stew bubbling away in the slow cooker. To make preparation even easier, I like to start it the night before, and then all I have to do is turn on the slow cooker in the morning. —Lyndsay Wells, Ladysmith, British ColumbiaGo to Recipe
Lemony Walnut-Raisin Galette
This flaky, buttery pastry dessert has a filling of fruit, walnuts, coconut and cinnamon. There’s a lot to love! For even more appeal, dollop sweetened whipped cream on top of each serving. —Ellen Kozak, Milwaukee, WisconsinGo to Recipe
How to Make Creme Fraiche, the Tangy, Creamy Condiment You Need in Your Life
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French Canadian Tourtieres
This recipe comes from my big sister. Each fall, we get together and make about 20 of these pies to use at Christmas, give as gifts or freeze for unexpected company. —Pat Menee, Carberry, ManitobaGo to Recipe
Creamy Caramel Flan
A small slice of this impressively rich, creamy, caramel flan dessert goes a long way. What a delightful finish for a special meal or holiday celebration. —Pat Forete, Miami, FloridaGo to Recipe
Hot Cocoa Souffle
A friend invited me to go to a cooking demo at her church years ago, and one of the recipes prepared was this luscious souffle. It was so easy—and absolutely delicious. —Joan Hallford, North Richland Hills, TexasGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Chicken Cassoulet Soup
After my sister spent a year in France as an au pair, I created this lighter, easier version of traditional French cassoulet for her. It uses chicken instead of the usual duck.—Bridget M. Klusman, Otsego, MichiganGo to Recipe
Almond Pear Tart
I had never seen a “pie without a pan” until my daughter brought back this wonderful pear almond tart recipe from a Rotary Club exchange program in Belgium. It’s still a family favorite after all these years. —Sherry LaMay, Capitan, New MexicoGo to Recipe
Seafood Crepes Bearnaise
“This family favorite is a great treat on chilly nights. It’s warming and has so much flavor in every bite. I like to serve it with a tossed salad and rolls.”
Kristy Barnes-Armstrong – Marysville, WashingtonGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Tangerine Tuiles with Candied Cranberries
Delicate cookie cups create delightful serving bowls for the creamy tangerine mousse. The cranberry syrup makes a delectable garnish. —Jessie Sarrazin, Livingston, MontanaGo to Recipe
Ultimate Bacon-Maple French Toast
A savory update to baked French toast, this is an easy make-ahead dish that is excellent for brunches and showers. The combination of maple syrup, bacon and nuts makes it impressive and satisfying. —John Whitehead, Greenville, South CarolinaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
This dish is chock-full of flavor, and the little spice from the kielbasa makes a nice hearty combo for a flavorful meal-in-one. —Barbara Brittain, Santee, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Meringue Roses
Eat these pretty treats as is or crush them into a bowl of strawberries and whipped cream. Readers of my blog, utry.it, went nuts when I posted that idea.—Amy Tong, Anaheim, CaliforniaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
The Secret to Making a Quick Sourdough Starter That Actually Works
With the artisanal bread movement taking off around the country, sourdough has seen a well-deserved spike in popularity. It’s easy enough to make this bread at home (and sourdough bagels, pizzas, pancakes…you get the drift). Every recipe begins with a sourdough starter. Our method uses a smart hack to get the starter ready super quick.Learn More