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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 March, 2005, 13:32 GMT
School dinners around the world
In Britain there has been much debate about the healthiness - or more particularly the unhealthiness - of school lunches.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has promised to toughen the minimum nutritional standards of school meals in England.

But at present, a snapshot survey of pupils' eating habits showed that 40% of pupils had eaten chips that day at school and 85% had eaten sweets, cakes or biscuits.

BBC News takes a look at what pupils in a selection of other countries are eating during their lunch breaks.


In a country where food is virtually the national religion, school meals are naturally a subject of intense interest, not least as the nation worries about the rising obesity rate among its children, especially the under-15s.

Many schools already employ their own nutritionist, who works with a parents' committee to ensure lunches provide a healthy, balanced diet.

Much more is spent per meal than in Britain, with a French school lunch costing anything from £1.50 to £4 a head, depending on region. Poorer parents pay only a portion of the total.

And there's no pandering to children's love of pizzas, burgers or chips; these are adult menus served in child-size portions, as the French believe good eating habits start early.

France school meal
Grapefruit starter
Grilled chicken and green beans
Cheese and rice pudding

On the menu this week in a typical Parisian primary school in the 11th arrondissement is a mouth-watering menu: a starter of grapefruit, followed by grilled chicken with green beans, then a cheese course and rice pudding for dessert. The day's snack is a tangerine.

One day a week, chips are on offer but with a salmon lasagne, rather than sausage or burgers, while Thursday's pizza is served with a healthy green salad.

The meal is accompanied by plain water, rather than fizzy drinks. There is no choice, so children must either eat up or go home for lunch.

Yet France is still worried by the rapid growth of childhood obesity.

According to the International Obesity Task Force, part of the World Health Organisation, 36% of Italian children are overweight, compared with 22% in Britain and a larger-than-expected 19% in France - a hefty increase for a country that has always prided itself on its healthy eating habits.

Obesity already affects 15% of French under-15s and, by 2020, the figure is predicted to rise to 25%, if current trends continue.

As a result, vending machines are not allowed in primary schools and will be banned in secondary schools from September this year - meaning an estimated 8,000 will have to be removed from state schools.

And while French schools may be offering healthy meals, what happens outside school or even at home is another matter.

The traditional, balanced French meal is now eaten by only 20% of the population - and McDonalds and other fast-food outlets are as popular with French children as with their British or American counterparts.

One million people eat at one of the 1,009 McDonald's restaurants in France every day, and the French now also drink an average of 42 litres, or 74, pints of cola per person each year.

These days, the average French person consumes 34kg of sugar annually, compared with 23kg just five years ago - while the under-15s consume most of all, a frightening 39kg per year each, most of it from snacks, sweets and soft drinks.

A French government commission has made healthy eating such a priority that primary schools offer nutrition classes, teaching children the lessons about healthy eating that their parents used to learn at home.


Walk into almost any school cafeteria in the United States and the students will be grousing about the "mystery meat" and the pile of green stuff on their plates that once in a former life was spinach.

Students don't like the food, which means as soon as they can drive, they head off campus to the nearest fast food franchise.

And critics say that school lunches contribute to the fattening of the United States.

The humble school lunch has had more than its fair share of controversy in the US.

Attempts to limit the amount of fat by limiting the servings of French fries have only been met by student rebellion.

US school meal
Burger and chips
Fizzy drink

And of course, the most controversial moment came when Ronald Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, proposed classifying ketchup as a vegetable to meet dietary requirements while also slashing costs.

Both federal and local officials have been trying to improve the school lunch programme, so it is more nutritious for students and the food is more liked by them.

But it's a massive undertaking. The National School Lunch programme in the United States feeds more than 28 million students in 98,000 schools across the country.

Schools also provide breakfast in some districts to low-income children and, since 1998, the federal government has also given schools money to provide snacks to students who participate in after-school programmes.

In 2003, the US Department of Agriculture said the school lunch programme cost $7.1bn (£3.7bn).

The menus vary greatly from district to district, but they must meet the applicable recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

These say no more than 30% of an individual's calories should come from fat, and less than 10% from saturated fat.

School lunches are also required to provide one-third of the recommended dietary allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.

The food is mostly packaged, with some critics complaining that lunchrooms are merely dumping grounds for agricultural surplus.

Dr Walter Willett, head of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says of the foods offered to schools by the Department of Agriculture: "Their foods tend to be at the bottom of the barrel in terms of healthy nutrition."

A 2001 Department of Agriculture study showed that 80% of schools offered menu items that could be combined to meet dietary guidelines.

But more than one-fifth of lunch programmes offered commercial fast food, and most schools had vending machines. The study found that students often made bad choices.

But there are attempts at broader reforms.

A new programme partners schools with local small farmers to bring more fresh fruit and vegetables to students.

And some states are pushing to ban vending machines in an attempt to keep the students from subsisting on snacks and junk food.


There is no system of school canteens here, and all Norwegian school children bring a packed lunch to school.

It usually consists of open sandwiches with cheese or salami toppings. Most schools also offer a cut-price subscription service on milk, yoghurt or fruit.

Lunch breaks are only 30 minutes long. All the pupils eat their lunches in the classroom, often while a teacher reads to them from popular books.

Norway school meal
Open sandwich
Yoghurt or fruit

The Norwegian school lunch reflects the general focus on healthy eating in this country.

Nutrition is part of the national curriculum, and many teachers see it as their duty to encourage pupils to stay away from unhealthy foods and drinks which are rich in sugar. It is rare to find soft drink dispensers in schools here.

But some children do turn up without packed lunches. As there is no way for them to buy food, they go without for the entire school day.

This has led some to argue schools should introduce a state-run system of canteens, similar to what is operating in neighbouring Sweden.

But most agree such canteens should offer only healthy foods, keeping Norwegian schools free from soft drinks and chips.


Chips, pizza or burgers are defiantly not on the menu in Ukraine.

But that doesn't mean that school lunches here are necessarily all that healthy.

A typical meal has three courses and a fruit drink.

To start, pupils are given an appetiser like borsch, the traditional Ukrainian soup made out of beetroot, vegetables and meat.

Ukraine school meal
Sausage or meat cutlet and mash
Pancakes or syrki

It's followed by a main course of something like sausages or a cutlet, which is made of chopped meat mixed with egg and breadcrumbs and then fried.

That's accompanied by mashed potatoes or boiled buckwheat.

The dessert often will be biscuits, pancakes or syrki, which is chocolate covered cream cheese.

In some Ukrainian schools, children who have special diets are given healthier meals. They are not served fatty foods.

The ingredients for these special meals are steamed rather than fried.

This healthy option is something which has been around since Soviet times.

Virtually all meals are made from fresh ingredients in individual school kitchens.

Meals used to be free but now most children pay for them. In Kiev a pupil has to fork out around $2 (£1.04) a week.

In Ukraine poverty and corruption are a real problem.

This means that what is served up in school canteens varies across the country.

According to the authorities in one western region, meals are very poor quality and pupils are unlikely to be given fish, meat, eggs, juice, cheese, milk, or butter.

In Kiev, the city mayor pays for all school children to be given juice and biscuits at break time.

Your comments

People here don't seem to be able to live without bread at least once, preferably twice, a day
Simon Newport, Antwerp, Belgium
I go to a normal secondary school in Belgium and as far as I know you'll only get cooked lunches if you go to private or international schools. All of my friends either bring sandwiches (people here don't seem to be able to live without bread at least once, preferably twice, a day)or go home and eat sandwiches. The only vending machines we have is for yoghurt, a tiny cup of soup or a soft drink. But no one really buys anything in the canteen. Most students bring some type of sweet or biscuit to school just to make sure that you're not eating too healthy.
Simon Newport, Antwerp, Belgium

In Taiwan, the children under 12 have lunch in school. Some schools have big kitchens and there are several cooks to prepare the food. Usually there is rice, two kinds of vegetables, one meat and a bowl of soup. You can eat like you would eat at your home. The pupils pay money every month.
Ling, Taoyuan, Taiwan

Nearly all the students and staff, from cleaners to head, eat in school
John Ross, Bangkok, Thailand
I teach at an independent school and the meals here are great. Nearly all the students and staff, from cleaners to head, eat in school. We have a noodle bar which is open all day; a breakfast bar serving anything from scrambled eggs and bacon, to a BLT or various other sandwiches; a snack bar serving so many kinds of fruit, sandwiches, pizza, buns and ice cream; two lunchtime canteens selling things like red chicken curry, sautéed pork in oyster sauce, lasagne, chicken chasseur, with fresh salad and vegetarian meals always available. Ten different meals every day to feed around 2,000 people. Yesterday's breaded pork roll was super but I arrived too late today for the chicken a l'orange.
John Ross, Bangkok, Thailand

In China, where I grew up, public schools didn't serve lunches. Instead, students were encouraged to walk home for lunch. Since parents also came home for their own lunch breaks, lunch was usually a good home-cooked meal and plenty of family time.
Fan, Princeton, USA

Most children in primary schools bring their own lunch to school. I am very happy that the schools enforce healthy attitudes regarding food. Children are not allowed to bring candy or chips of any kind. Fruits and brown bread are encouraged. Milk can be purchased from the school or else children bring their own juice packs or water.
Sherrie Zwail, Amsterdam, Netherlands

I have survived my school food, and it's certainly made me resistant to a variety of germs
Indy, Hyderabad, India
Hmm, food in Indian schools? I guess they do give lunch in public schools in India. Mostly - rice, dal (cooked cereal), a cooked vegetable curry, yoghurt or buttermilk, and an optional non-vegetarian side, typically chicken or mutton or God-forbid, fish. I have survived my school food, and it's certainly made me resistant to a variety of germs and their variants.
Indy, Hyderabad, India

That was a mouth watering article... back in Pakistan, school always ended by lunch time and lunch was whatever was cooked at home. Curry with naan (flat bread)
Imran Ahmed, Lahore, Pakistan

Here in Finland school lunch is provided free of charge to all students. There is usually no choice (although increasingly these days, there is a vegetarian option). The food is usually relatively healthy and menus are planned with a balanced meal in mind. In most localities, the week's menu for each school appears in the local newspaper - this way parents can check what their children are eating. Also, in my home municipality, the local authority publishes the menu on its internet site as well. For instance, I can see that tomorrow my children will be eating "fish in lemon sauce".
Thomas Eklund, Finland

My son goes to a private school and children here study only half a day, which means they eat at home. But there is time for snacks, which may be taken with them, and may consist of a sandwich and fruit, or they can buy at the canteen, which offers grilled cheese sandwiches and pizzas, which is not so great. But at least sweets are not allowed anymore, as it was in my childhood. The great thing is you can buy coconut water at the school canteen, which my son adores and it is very healthy.
Adriana Terra, Rio de Janeiro Brazil

My kids went to school in Schottland. They had lunch at school, probably some chips and soggy salad. The problem was that one serving was not enough for my younger one so he asked for a second. There were not enough seconds available, so he had to gorge his first in order to get a second and then he was forced to eat it all, regardless if he was still hungry or not. The result was, he lost all awareness for his feeling of hunger and he put on a lot of weight. It took him a long time and a lot of effort to lose this weight again.
H Mihm, Berlin, Germany

I went to school in the 80s in Southern France and had lunch at school with most of the other students. We sat at the same table every day, 10 per table and were served large platters per table. The menu always included an appetizer (usually some kind of salad such as tomatoes, carrots, green salad, coleslaw or cold cut), then meat and vegetables and a desert (usually a fruit). All this was served with a fresh baguette and water. You never had the same dish twice in two weeks. Serving over 1,500 meals a day, the subsidized meal system was quite inexpensive, nutritious and more than acceptable. We of course sometimes complained about some dishes (like overcooked meat), but compared to most schools we had a great bargain. So, occasionally pretty good, rarely terrible and definitely nutritious.
Bruno, Marseille, France

Canteens are not allowed to sell fizzy drinks or coffee
Zoe, Birmingham, UK
In Greece you don't have a cafeteria in schools but a canteen where you can buy sandwiches or more usually the Greek cheese-pie or spinach-pie. Canteens are not allowed to sell fizzy drinks or coffee but only juices and they also sell fruit.
Zoe, Birmingham, UK

My daughter refuses to eat the pre-packaged food available for lunch at her school, even when it's pizza, otherwise her favourite treat! So she gets a packed lunch every day. Cheese pizza (once a week) is the only non-meat option. Vegetarian kids have to bring their own food. Also, they can choose between juice, milk or chocolate milk but don't have the option of plain old water! That I simply don't understand.
Annie, New Haven, USA

We live in a small town outside of Venice and our children go to the local state-run elementary school. We are quite fortunate that the school dinner programme is so good and healthy. The Italians in general are quite concerned with the quality of their food and this is definitely reflected in the schools. A dietician plans well balanced menus for the children and detailed nutritional information is available at the school office.
Diana Pernice Small, Cavarzere, Venezia, Italy

In Switzerland, children still go home over lunch in most schools. This has various positive aspects. First they have to walk home and back to school which is a good exercise. Second, they get a home cooked meal (traditionally salad, potatoes or rice or pasta with a piece of meat and some fruit). And last the family has a meal together which is also good for family social life. Looking back now, I so much appreciate having had these lunches when I was kid, especially when I now have my lunch at my desk at work. There is also a scheme that offers apples in the break to encourage a more healthy diet and is party funded by the school.
Nicole, Zurich, Switzerland

One of the local American Schools actually had a 'Burger King' restaurant in its own cafeteria
Adam, British Expat in the US
While living in Singapore, I was always impressed by the variety of foods available there and the generally healthy eating habits of all people as well as in the schools. However, the ironic fact was that one of the local American Schools actually had a 'Burger King' restaurant in its own cafeteria!
Adam, British Expat in the US

School meals in the UK are an absolute scandal. A whole generation, if not two, has already been brought up to think that crisps, chocolate bars, chips and burgers are a normal lunch that can be eaten every day. A pittance is spent on meals (37p) and schools insist on bending over backwards to provide children with 'choice'. This is nonsense. Increase the budget and don't offer a 'choice', make kids eat proper food. Fizzy pop and other vending machines should not be allowed in schools at all. It is a disgrace that schools profit from these dispensers of junk food. All credit to Jamie Oliver for tackling this issue, I suspect that this is the only reason Ruth Kelly is bothering to mention the subject.
Peter Evans, London, England

Not many parents can afford the extra money for food when free meals are provided
Laura M Bretana, Caguas, Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico, public schools offer free breakfast and lunch. Breakfast usually consists of eggs (boiled or scrambled) and milk as a beverage. Lunch is usually the typical Caribbean rice and beans, salad, and protein, usually chicken. It comes with milk, either if you drink it or not. The government has tried to include fast food items without success. It isn't the students who protest but their parents. Even tough the Puerto Rican diet is sometimes greasy, and we frequently eat fast food meals, parents don't want that kind of food in schools. Students also have the option of buying lunch, and these options aren't healthy. They usually consist of chips, fried chicken, turnovers, ice cream, etc... But still the majority of children eat at the cafeteria, not many parents can afford the extra money for food when free meals are provided.
Laura M Bretana, Caguas, Puerto Rico

I attend a high school in central London. I would like to say that we're different and don't have chips and such greasy items, however we do have a healthy alternative. The school has removed fizzy drinks machines and replaced them with fruit drinks and low-fat milkshakes along with installing one of those handy machines which provides free cooled water. As the option of fizzy drinks is no longer there, people either have to bring them in or go without. Food wise, pasta, salads and sandwiches are available but there is a limited number made so if you're late for lunch, you have to have the greasy chips and burgers.
Sarah Kristian, UK

Irn Bru, Mars Bar and chips....and that's just for breakfast. I'm not exaggerating. Is Scotland the most unhealthy country on earth?
Adrian Mackie, Edinburgh, Scotland

I'm originally from Ukraine. The menu in our schools was always extensive. That was 10 years ago. You had a choice of fish or meat, different kinds of salads, borsch (Ukrainian soup) or any other kind of soup, different kinds of cereals, pasta, or potato. It was always accompanied by various diary products or fruit drink ("compot") or tea. And to treat yourself you could choose from many kinds of pastries. In addition to all this our bread was usually whole wheat or rye. The meal was not as perfect as home-made cooking, but it was close enough and very healthy.
Victoria Molodtsova, Toronto, Canada

My daughter studies in Hyderabad, India in a school which serves lunch. There are states within India which have a school lunch program in the government schools (generally called mid-day meal) and this will consist of rice, lentils and vegetable curry (never any meat, to make it simpler and arrive at a universal menu). The idea behind this scheme is motivate the parents to send the children to school so that the former are assured of at least one whole meal in a day. At the other end of the scale are the upmarket schools which provide lunch (never any meat but a fairly attractive menu varying every day, a rice or wheat product, lentils, vegetables and an Indian sweet, rarely a fruit) - here the idea is to take away from the parents the burden of preparing and packing a lunch and undeniably there are commercial reasons too.
Asad Adeni, Kuwait

When I went to school in Sweden we had two proper cooked meals to choose between
E Jonsson, London, England
When I went to school in Sweden we had two proper cooked meals to choose between. We also had a salad bar (without unhealthy dressings) and drinks were a choice of milk, water or unsweetened lingonberry juice. If I ever have kids and I have to make them packed lunches I will never take the easy option and give them fast food and crisps, I agree with a ban on junk food in school.
E Jonsson, London, England

In Kosovo, I see students eating 'local-style' fast food all day. This mainly consists of white bread buns with hamburger meat, mayonnaise, ketchup and cheese; Turkish bread stuffed with spiced mini-burgers with chilli flakes and drinking yoghurt on the side, or Turkish donor kebabs. There is also burek, which is fatty pastry filled with spinach and cheese or meat. Young people here tend to be fairly slim, but with very oily skin and hair. Whatever they eat, it does not seem nutritious to me, with a lack of vegetables, soda is popular and fruit juices.
Rebecca, Prizren, Kosovo

I was teaching at a primary boarding school in a poor suburb of Uganda last year. On 9 days out of ten, the pupils and staff would have "porridge" at 10.30 - semi boiled maize flour, which was an excellent substitute for glue/wallpaper paste. For lunch, the leftover porridge would have hardened (posho) and was served with boiled beans. The same was eaten for dinner. On my reckoning, this cost 8p per pupil per day. Utterly tasteless and with the nutritional value of, well, flour. Occasionally (usually on an open day), meat would be served alongside steamed banana (matooke). All these kids dream of is "chipsi" - obviously it's a global thing!
Paul Holdsworth, Aberystwyth

Our school district has never sold soda with the school lunch
Liz Haight, Tucson, AZ, USA
I work as a "lunch lady" at the school that my children attend. Today we will be having bean and cheese burritos (pinto beans and cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla with lettuce and salsa on the side), rice, and fruit. The school lunch comes with a choice of low-fat milk, low-fat chocolate milk, or fat-free milk. They can also buy fruit juice. Our school district has never sold soda with the school lunch. We have a snack bar for the older kids where we once sold soda, but we stopped doing that about two years ago. The kids complained about that briefly, but they got over it.
Liz Haight, Tucson, AZ, USA

There is no national norm in the Netherlands: some of the larger schools have canteens that sell cooked food, usually of the 'fast food' variety: chips and burgers: there is no tradition of cooked lunches. I'd say that by far the majority of children and teenagers bring packed lunches, usually sandwiches and fruit. However, pretty much all secondary schools have vending machines selling snacks and soft drinks - and when I was in secondary school just a few years ago my classmates and I made use of them almost every day, though we didn't replace our packed lunches with snacks. Given the health risks known to be connected to over-consumption of sugars and saturated fats, I think it's insane that these snacks and soft drinks are sold in schools (though did not, of course, think about it in these terms at the time). If schools, teachers and parents have so little concern for children's health they might as well sell cigarettes there!
Charlotte Crockett, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Here in Italy food is a sort of religion
Patrizia Zanetti, Verona, Italy
Here in Italy food is a sort of religion. Nevertheless children eat what is called "merendine", sort of cakes, chips or snacks generally. It would be very healthy if children eat fruit or bread or something not "industrially produced", but advertising makes its part, and boys and girls are naturally attracted from something they can at least... taste. So, it depends not only on the family but also on what children see and desire to eat. "That snack has been eaten from my friend this very morning.. so may I have it too?" it's not a legend...
Patrizia Zanetti, Verona, Italy

When I was in public middle school in Russia we always had some sort of home-cooked meal. First we had soup than some pasta/rice/mashed potatoes style meal with cutlets, and a glass of tea with "bulochka" for desert. I loved it! As far as I can remember it tasted better than what I ate when I went to study abroad to a high school in USA, were we were fed pizza for lunch.
Dmitriy, Smolensk, Russia

You didn't mention that many kids bring their own lunch in the US. I don't know the percentage, but I'd say most do. I never ate the school lunch. My mom would pack a lunch box, and I'd have things like a thermos full of spaghetti with zucchini, and an apple. My mom is a third grade teacher and she says that nearly all of her kids have a packed lunch, and healthy ones, for the most part. She does have one or two kids who parents pack fast food, and a few kids who eat the school lunch, but they are the exception. Your report characterized all kids as eating what they serve at school, and that is simply not the case at all.
Allison, Chicago, USA

Teachers often take children and their parents to task if this packed lunch is not healthy
Petra van der Heijden, Roermond, the Netherlands
In most Dutch primary schools, there is no canteen and the children bring in a packed lunch. Teachers often take children and their parents to task if this packed lunch is not healthy, eg if it is made with white bread rather than wholemeal. Healthy eating is drummed into everyone: 'broodje gezond' (a roll with salad filling) is a standard option in most fast food outlets. Having said that, chips and sweets are as popular as everywhere else in the world.
Petra van der Heijden, Roermond, the Netherlands

I generally brought a packed lunch, but when I did have school lunches, there was a reasonable choice. Filled rolls (ham, cheese, lettuce, etc) or a cooked lunch such as lasagne or shepherd's pie. Chips were only available once a week which was good, as you looked forward to them as a treat rather than as a constant in your diet. Since I left school though, the menu has declined as more junk food is present and chips are available every day. Vending machines are now much more common as well. Not good.
Andrew Hamilton, Belfast, Northern Ireland

In New Zealand there is no system of school lunches. Children bring packed lunches to school with them. These generally consist of sandwiches, snacks and fruit. There is a canteen where children can buy their lunch, in primary school a parent must select what they would like their child to have and in secondary school the choice belongs to the student. Perhaps the UK should move away from school dinners towards a packed lunch option and leave the food decisions in the hands of the parents...
Kerryn, Wellington, New Zealand

In Spain most kids go home for lunch since there's a lunch break of 2-3 hours
Olga Pleguezuelos, Barcelona, Spain
I now live in London but in Spain most kids go home for lunch since there's a lunch break of 2-3 hours depending on the school. Kids with working parents can have lunch in the school dining room, but they do not get to choose what they want. Parents get a weekly menu so that they know what their children are eating every day. Lunches are the main meal in Spain and for kids it tends to consist of two courses including vegetables and a fish, or meat dish with pasta, rice or potatoes, followed by fruit or yoghurt. I am an expecting mother and I am concerned about school food and about the increasing number of obese kids in this country.
Olga Pleguezuelos, Barcelona, Spain

I'm currently teaching English at elementary schools and a junior high in Japan. Everyone in the school, including students, teachers, secretaries, and even the principal eats the same required lunch every day. It always consists of a glass bottle of milk, a bowl of rice, usually some type of fish, a pickled salad, some kind of soup usually with tofu and vegetables, and a piece of fruit. The menu changes every day, and as an American who grew up dreading the provided school meal, the Japanese lunch is actually a tasty treat to look forward to. It's healthy, with tofu and lots of vegetables and protein, and hardly any fat or sugars. From a subjective viewpoint, the only bad thing about it are those not so lovely "jako," or little whole dried fish (eyeballs and all) that they love to sprinkle on everything.
Briana Winter, Kochi, Japan

In Bangladesh, giving children healthy food during Tiffin period does not fall in the high priority list of school authorities, or parents of most children. The school-goers love to eat the traditional junk food consisting of different fried snacks, oily food items like tehari, ice-creams, colas, different types of chilly and sweet chutneys or just anything that tastes good to eat. More over, eating Western-type junk food is more of a food fashion statement for both children and their parents and in some cases also for the school authorities. And those few kids who do get to eat, or are forced to eat healthy items get rebuked by peers as in "oh look at what he/she is eating!". So in the end, the child either stops bringing healthy food or asks the mother for something more acceptable.
Mahfuza, Karlsruhe, Germany

Generally non-fee paying schools in Ireland don't have any school dinners as such. The default option is for students to bring a packed lunch. Traditionally this would involve sandwiches, but an unhealthy combination of chocolate bars, crisps and snack food is probably more common today. Fizzy drinks are the main accompaniment, although some schools offer subsidised milk. Many schools do have some form of lunch facilities, for example, soup and pre-packed rolls, but it entirely depends on how well the school supports itself financially (schools in Ireland by default make a loss without contributions or fundraising), and even so, the students usually pay normal retail prices.
Conal, Ireland

I believe crisps and fizzy drinks should be banned from packed lunches
Liz, Oxford, UK
I am originally from Germany but my children have lived in the UK for all their lives. When my daughter started school last September she came home asking me why she is not given the same food as most of the other kids. They have crisps, white bread sandwiches, fizzy drinks and chocolate bars every day while my children get a sandwich made from home baked wholemeal bread, some salad stuff and water from the water fountain at school. As a snack they have a piece of fruit or a savoury oatcake. Obviously my kids also like crisps, but to give these to children from an early age every day is outrageous. I believe crisps and fizzy drinks should be banned from packed lunches, which would force parents to look for healthier alternatives. My daughter is now quite happy with her alternative food and simply has realised that some kids are different.
Liz, Oxford, UK

In Korea, schools don't provide any meals. Children always bring packed lunches and eat them in their classrooms (the tables are rearranged by the pupils so that they sit in groups of 4-8). What's interesting is that the children share their lunches. They have no concept of the lunches being their own, and the mums think of it as packing a meal for the class rather than their own child. The meals themselves usually consist of steamed rice, a meat dish, eggs and a few vegetables.
Harry, London

I went to school in Paris, France, in the 80s and the canteen food was atrocious back then. It made you hate green veggies because they were never cooked properly. Even fries were soggy! The overall nutritional value was probably healthy, but the lack of love going into the cooking was very contrary to our being raised to love our food. I hated lunch time so much that I refused to eat, and paired up with French's obsession with being slim, which resulted in serious eating disorders. School lunches are a very important part of education, as it can shape kids' eating habits for ever. Giving kids chips or soggy spinach will just enhance their addiction to fast food, as they will see that the options are healthy but disgusting, or unhealthy but tasty. Which one would you go for as a child? The solution is to teach them to love healthy food by making it simple but tasty. They might even encourage their parents to cook better!
Alice, London, UK

Most American school menus are much more extensive then burgers and French fries
Jenny Pelsner, United States
Most American school menus are much more extensive then burgers and French fries. Most high schools offer at least three separate choices: a traditional meal, which changes daily, consisting of roast beef, mashed potatoes, apple sauce, etc. The second choice is a "fast food" option, where you stand in line and get a bag with a cheeseburger and French fries. The third choice is usually a rotating schedule with a potato bar (lots of fatty toppings like melted cheese, bacon), the taco salad bar (again, lots of fatty toppings), and various deli sandwiches. Needless to say, few choose the first option, as it is not considered "cool".
Jenny Pelsner, United States

In this small rice-growing town on the northern island of Hokkaido, for three years I ate the most amazing selection of Japanese dishes. Miso soup and rice (a bowl of plain, sticky rice with no adornment) were staples, but the miso soup often contained such items of interest as scallops, tofu or seaweed. The main part of the meal was often protein based, such as a pork cutlet or grilled salmon, and then there was a salad. My favourite was something I had not expected to enjoy eating, consisting as it did of pickled seaweed, cold scrambled egg and tangerine pieces. Occasionally we had noodles in soup, and to hear an entire room slurping it up in the accepted fashion was an experience! Dessert was often a milk-based pudding, and, like in France, there was no choice and children were expected to take part in the togetherness ritual of the meal. They ate on trays in their classrooms.
Matthew Knights, Chippubetsu, Japan

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