Tag Archives: school lunch in Italy

FREE teacher’s resources

What’s for Lunch? was created for kids, their parents and teachers to initiate discussions about food and the way it connects to so many issues that we all care about. Things like the environment, poverty, hunger, our health and the health of our communities.

cafeteria-tray.pngBut reading the book is just the beginning. I hope families and educators will use it as a bouncing-off point for more in-depth discussions. That’s why, with the help of my publisher, Red Deer Press, I’ve created a FREE Teaching Guide for use in classrooms everywhere. The guide has questions aimed at initiating talk about what kids eat around the world, teaching ideas inspired by the book’s content, blacklines for easy printout—all downloadable here. (It’s about 5 MB.)

There are curriculum connections to health and nutrition, environmental sustainability, diversity, urban/rural connections, media education and much more. From the Pizza Pie game to Untangling the Food System to a more in-depth session we call The Lottery of Life, I hope these resources will inspire teachers to bring the ideas in What’s for Lunch? into their classroom. I’d love to hear how it goes. Email me (andrea at andreacurtis dot ca) and let me know!

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

School lunch around the world

I’ve been blogging about school lunch for more than two years now, so I figure it’s about time for a look back at the countries and the lunches I’ve explored around the world.

I’ve written a lot about Canada and the U.S. (check out the tag cloud if you’re interested in reading some of it), but I’ve also stopped on almost every other continent. Of course, there’s more—much more—in my book, What’s for Lunch? Watch for news about the upcoming publication date! Here’s a taste of some of the places I’ve visited on the blog:

On getting girls into the classroom with school meals in AFGHANISTAN.

What’s for Lunch in Brazil?

School lunch at the vanguard of ending poverty and hunger in BRAZIL (plus more here).

Lunch at a unique green school in BALI, INDONESIA.

Taste education and school meals in FRANCE.

From FINLAND with love: how school lunch contributes to producing some of the smartest kids in the world.

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Changing food culture one kid at a time

This is the last part in a week-long conversation with Jeannie Marshall, author of the new book Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products.

For those of you who missed the last three parts in this series, please have a look at posts earlier in the week. Many thanks to Jeannie, who took the time to answer my questions so carefully and thoughtfully.

Today, Jeannie talks about how food culture is different in Canada and Italy and why you can’t buy community in the grocery store.

Q. Outside the Box is very much about the importance of food culture—something you’ve witnessed firsthand moving between Italy and Canada. You were recently in Canada— did you see any new evidence that Canadians are reclaiming or establishing a food culture here?

Jeannie Marshall: I was in Canada for part of April and I did see so many encouraging signs that communities are trying to build their own food cultures. The growth of farmers’ markets is a big example. People, like never before, want to know where there food comes from and they want to buy it from the producer. Industrial food production has distanced us from food for a long time, and things like farmers markets and community gardens are ways to reacquaint ourselves with the plants and animals that make up our diet. Also, farmers’ markets are sociable places. I managed to visit two while I was in Toronto and I loved them both. Of course, I had just left Rome where our farmers’ markets are full of lush green vegetables and in Toronto there were mainly root vegetables, but that reflects the reality of the growing season. I really enjoyed talking with people who were buying the ingredients for dinner and who readily explained to me how they had canned and frozen their own vegetables from the summer and fall to supplement what they could buy over the winter. Everyone was discussing with great longing and anticipation the spring peas and asparagus and what they will be doing with those later in the season. It also seemed that every restaurant I went to had a long story on the menu about the farms where their food was grown or raised. All of this is good – though, it does sometimes border on precious and I can see how that could be irritating to some.

I saw some children at the farmers’ markets, which is great, but many of them were wandering around eating the cookies and other home baked sweets, which is probably less great. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but maybe we could encourage the children to choose something for after lunch or dinner rather than letting them eat constantly.

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Who’s your nanny?

School food and parental responsibility

This is part three in a week-long conversation with Jeannie Marshall, author of the brilliant Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products.

For those of you who missed the last two parts in this conversation, the book is part manifesto, part family story.  It’s about the disappearance of “real food,” as the title suggests, but more than anything, it’s about the value of  “food culture” in ensuring a healthy and sustainable food system for kids and adults alike.  Jeannie’s easy-to-read style and chilling, clear-eyed marshalling of the facts makes it a standout among food books.

Today, the appeal of forbidden food and the dangers of allowing industrial food to call the shots.

Q: When anyone starts suggesting regulating soda pop consumption or, in Canada, introducing universal school lunches, there’s always a lot of talk about the nanny state and how parents are absconding from their responsibility. How do you respond to this?

Jeannie Marshall: I would say we should be asking just who is our nanny? Is it the government with regulations or is it industry? Right now we are being told what to eat, reminded to eat it constantly and even given very little real choice about what to eat – but it’s the food industry that does this, not the government. Nestlé goes into schools with nutrition information to teach children how to eat. Now there’s a nanny I really don’t want for my kid.

It would be great if we could have government regulations that supported a genuine food culture, one that nourishes human beings rather than fattens up the food industry. I realize I’m wishing for a radical change in perception, but I think it would be great if communities could collectively decide what they want to eat and if the government could help them to find it. Maybe this would involve supporting small farmers to grow a wide variety of foods with as few chemicals as possible rather than encouraging them to grow single crops for commodity purchasers. It would also be great if labels that tell you something about the way the food is grown (i.e. organic, free-range, etc) could be standard and meaningful. This would mean saying “no” GMO crops cannot be labelled as organic. Continue reading

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How school lunch can change the world

This is part two in a week-long conversation with Jeannie Marshall, author of the brilliant Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products.

For those of you who missed yesterday’s installment, the book is part manifesto, part family story.  It’s about the disappearance of “real food,” as the title suggests, but more than anything, it’s about the value of  “food culture” in ensuring a healthy and sustainable food system for kids and adults alike. Jeannie’s easy-to-read style and chilling, clear-eyed marshalling of the facts makes it a standout among books about food and children.

Today, how Italian kids learn to love spinach and stinging nettles because of their school lunch. (For more on Italian school lunch, check out my interview with two Roman schoolchildren here.)

Check back all week for more from Jeannie Marshall and Outside the Box.

Q: In your book, you suggest that school lunch could be the factor that can change a food culture for the better. Tell me how you imagine this might work in Canada (or elsewhere).

Jeannie Marshall: School lunch is an amazing, though mostly squandered, opportunity. Children exert such an incredible influence over each other’s tastes, and that influence can be harnessed for the good of their health if children are allowed to eat a communal meal at school. There are destructive things going on in Italy at the moment in terms of food and children because of the influence of the food industry. But one thing that still works in most of the country is the school lunch program.

My son Nico is now going to a different school than the one I describe in Outside the Box, but the lunch is still set up in mostly the same way. He sits with his classmates and his teacher at a table set with placemats, napkins and cutlery. The teacher facilitates a group conversation and gently corrects their table manners while they eat. Just looking at the menu for today I can tell you that Nico and his classmates are eating pasta with tomatoes and basil for their first course, and then they will have a frittata with a green salad for a second course and pears for desert. The food is all organic and mostly local. The important thing here is that there is one menu. There are no choices, though the school will make exceptions for children with genuine allergies (but there are few).

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Read this book!

Last year at this time, my family and I visited Rome. We ate and walked and bumped into major historical sites at every turn and then ate some more. (See my post on school lunch in Italy here.)

While there, a mutual friend introduced us to Jeannie Marshall, a Canadian writer and journalist who’s lived in Italy for many years with her husband, James, and their young son, Nico. We met up at a wonderful pizza place in Trastevere (where one of my sons promptly feel asleep with his head on the table!), and I learned that Jeannie was also working on a book about kids and food.

Well, that book, Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products is out, and it is a game-changer. Part manifesto, part family story, it’s about the disappearance of “real food,” as the title suggests, but more than anything, it’s about the value of  “food culture” in ensuring a healthy and sustainable food system for kids and adults alike. Anyone with an interest in children and food (parents, teachers, activists, educators of all kinds), or the politics of the food system should run out and get it now. Jeannie’s easy-to-read style and chilling, clear-eyed marshalling of the facts makes it a standout among food books.

Jeannie graciously agreed to answer some questions for all of us here at What’s for Lunch? and I’ll be running her answers all week. Please come back the rest of the week for more!

Today, why kids in the Hebrides used to love to eat cod heads stuffed with liver and why kids in Toronto wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Q: I was fascinated and a bit depressed by your early chapter on how children’s taste for healthy, whole food is perverted, even destroyed, by industrial food. What can we do to support kids to establish a taste for healthier, more sustainable food?

Jeannie Marshall: The first thing we can do is avoid the industrial food in our own homes. That means pretty much everything that comes in a package, whether it’s sliced, whole wheat bread we buy in the supermarkets or frozen fish sticks. We have to resist the urge to buy “products” that we think are healthy and remember that real food is always healthier.

But, another important thing is to recognize that what we do in our homes is not enough. As children grow up they naturally try to understand and fit into their communities, particularly with their peer group. Whether we recognize it or not, we live in a culture – it’s like a fine net that holds us together and is all but invisible to those of us who live within it. Yet it exerts an incredible power over our preferences in everything from food to fashion. It even forms a fundamental part of our identity. What we eat tells us something about who we are. For centuries in many parts of the world this sense of shared identity that comes through eating and enjoying the same foods as our neighbours has kept us alive.

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What’s for lunch in Rome?

Last month, my family and I spent two glorious weeks in Italy, part of it visiting some good friends in Roma. I asked their two funny and rambunctious sons, Giovanni, 7, and Michele, 9, who go to a local public school, about what they eat for lunch. Here’s what they told me (with some help from their mom and dad!).

G&M: We call it pranzo a mensa and we eat all four courses that are typical for lunch in Italy. For the first course it’s usually pasta or soup; for the second dish we have meat, fish, cheese or eggs. There’s a side dish of vegetables or salad and a dessert of fruit or cake. Very rarely we get hot sandwiches with cheese and ham (ed. like a crocque monsieur).

AC: Is it different every day?

G&M: Yes

AC: Do you like it? What’s your favourite part? What’s the worst part?

G&M:  Sometimes we like it but not very often. The second course is the best. We like the sandwiches most of all! The worst part is the soup.

Cacio e pepe: a simple and divine Roman staple

AC: Where do you eat?

G&M:  In a special room called “mensa.”

AC: How much time do you have and who supervises you?

G&M: We have 30 minutes to eat and the teachers watch us.

AC: Do you play before or afterward?

G&M: We get to play for 1/2 an hour afterward.

AC: Are menus sent home so parents know what their kids are eating?

G&M: No, but the menu is posted in the school.

AC: Is the food cooked at school or off-campus?

G&M (with parental assistance): It’s cooked at school but some schools don’t have the facilities and have it cooked off-campus by special companies.

AC: Who pays?

G&M (ditto): The lunch is subsidized by the government and the price depends on family income. The highest rate is 80 euros a month (approximately $110.00 Canadian).

AC: Is there some local and/or organic requirement for the food?

G&M (ditto): Yes, organic food is part of the menu, but due to financial troubles, the government has recently decided to cut part of the organic food.

Thanks, boys—we can’t wait to show you around Toronto!

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