Welcome to our newest blog category: Around the World! Since we're an international exchange student organization with students from over 25 countries, we wanted to highlight how other cultures go about their lives. For today's topic, we've chosen the humble school lunch. Note that these are just examples of common meals and generalities from these cultures, and meals can vary by the type of school or geography.
School lunches in America are usually nothing special or exciting, and students usually eat lunch around big tables in a cafeteria. Meals generally try to have a serving from each food group. Unlike other countries, students in the U.S. stay at school for lunch. The meals are prepared and served at the school, although some students bring their own 'sack' lunches from home.
Since school is generally taught in four-hour shifts in the mornings in Argentina, most students receive a homemade meal after the school day. If students do eat at school, lunches, like other meals in the country, are often meat-heavy, such as Milanesa meat-filled empanadas with a side of potato.
Brazilian students generally go to school in the morning hours and return home for lunch, but that has changed over the past few decades thanks to an innovative national school lunch program launched in 1995. The program links local farmers and products with schools to offer free hot, healthy meals to students. Meals generally consist of beans, rice, and some form of meat and fruit.
It is common for students to pay a monthly fee to the school, who then arranges with the local educational authority to have boxed lunches delivered to students. The boxes usually contain rice, meat, and vegetables. However, in other parts of China, students go home for their midday meal. Expensive private and boarding schools will have items such as fresh fruit and yogurt.
Our research concludes that French students often have the 'fanciest' meals of all the countries we looked at (especially compared to U.S. school lunches). French students usually receive hot, four-course meals at school. Dishes such as pike fish, green beans, bread, and Paris mushrooms or salmon, rice, ratatouille, and a dessert are common. There's also a good reason the French are known for their cuisine: taste training is actually part of the curriculum in France.
Germans also continue the trend of other nations that finish up school before lunchtime, though all-day schools are more common now. Students who do eat lunch at school can expect soups, fried fish, some form of potato, and pasta.
Pasta, pasta, pasta. It makes sense that the country known for its pasta also features it prominently in school lunches. One unique aspect to Italian school lunches is that students 'grow out' of them. While elementary and middle school students generally eat at school, most high school-aged students are finished with classes before noon, leave for a homemade meal, and return for extracurricular activities.
Norwegian schools typically do not offer lunches, so students usually bring packed lunches from home. These will usually consist of an open-faced sandwich made with meat and cheese. In fact, packed lunches have become a big deal in Norway, called matpakke.
Most Mongolian schools don't have cafeterias, and thus most students and staff go out to eat for lunch. Most meals follow the three-course outline, with dishes such as beef stir-fry, meatballs, or soup as the main course. Because of the extreme climate, vegetables and fruit aren't used much or are strictly seasonal.
In South Korea, students and teachers alike eat the same meals at the same tables. Soup and rice are generally on the menu every day. As in the U.S. and other countries, different cuisines can influence the school lunch menu, and it's not uncommon (though still rare) to find some 'Western' touches, such as chicken nuggets or burritos.
Only about 20% of Spanish students eat lunch at school, with the others either going home or bringing a packed lunch. Because of this, schools that do offer lunch often have it catered in from outside sources.
Noodles, rice, and soups are common in Thai school lunches. As with other cultures on the list (and unlike in America), the time of day doesn't determine the type of food you consume. Lunch is also a communal job, since students typically eat in their classrooms. Students rotate who washes dishes, sweeps the floor, etc. Packed lunches are not a thing in Thailand.
What about in your home country? Do you have certain norms or traditions for school lunches? Has it been hard adjusting to American school lunch culture?