One of the most prevalent concerns for children in the US these days is the high percentage of kids with obesity. Activity levels have lowered compared to children of yesteryears due to the development of technology and gadgets, leading to children preferring to stay home and play on their Xbox and iPads rather than running around outside and burning excess calories consumed through all the sweet stuff children love so much. Aside from this, school lunches provide children choices on what to eat, and usually what they would prefer would be the sugar-filled options rather than the healthy ones. In these 7 countries however, school lunches are balanced and healthy, partly due to the fact that these are their traditional foods that happen to be nutritious. Nevertheless, this can serve as a guide and inspiration to what healthy lunches look like.
Thailand’s traditional food choices contain a lot of healthy meals, although they do rely heavily on rice and noodle pairings, which are starchy carbohydrates that are converted into sugar inside the body. They make up for it through loading meals with vegetables, spices and herbs, and fresh ingredients. School lunches in Thailand include meals such as chicken (fried or boiled) with rice, lemon grass soup with chicken, egg noodle soup and macaroni soup. They do not advocate serving fast food meals and burgers, so schools provide the children with healthy options for lunch, making sure that the required nutrition is given everyday.
In France, children’s school lunch nutrition is taken very seriously. Elementary kids are served healthy meals that are regulated through a dietitian. As early as two months prior, the “cantine” (cafeteria) management prepares the menu and has it seen by a certified dietitian who makes corrections and modifications to the menu as necessary, such as taking out a dessert because it will result to consumption of too much sugar for the week, or adding some protein to balance the children’s needs. Most of the food served are not frozen or bought ready-made, but rather, freshly prepared in the kitchen. This ensures that the kids get adequate nutrition without the harmful preservatives that usually come with ready-made goods.
The benefits of having a Mediterranean diet cannot have more emphasis, especially with most of the world looking to healthy diets and disease-preventing foods in the past few years to improve health and decrease risk for obesity-related diseases. In Spain, school lunches are composed of a traditional Mediterranean meal, which is composed highly of vegetables with a moderate amount of meat as a protein source. A lot of the menus in lunches are plant-based, and use herbs and spices to give flavor to food instead of salt, which is good for maintaining heart health and preventing the risk of high blood pressure. Food is made and served fresh, and is complete in nutrients recommended for each child, all without holding back tastiness.
Italy is one of the countries that lead in European efforts to promote healthy food and exercise in schools and going back to market-based food buying. The lunches served are organic, fresh and locally produced, following Mediterranean-type diets. Management of the schools involve themselves in ensuring complete nutrition being served to the children, and design meal programs that rely on nutritious and organic food. This serves as a start to fight the rising obesity rates in children. Education regarding eating healthy and nutritional needs is also emphasized as the children are taught culinary traditions as well as differences between types of foods, and the required needs as per the food pyramid.
South Korean lunch meals have many different options! Public schools are served complete meals with at least 5 types of food in their lunch tray. Staples include soup, rice, and kimchi. Side dishes vary and come with every meal. In the country, students tend to stay all day at school, and then take private academies or night schools after that, so schools also offer dinner. That makes the school lunch system taking giving nutrition to two out of the three meals of the day. Like a lot of other Asian food, South Korean foods are flavored using spices and herbs, and a lot of their foods are fresh and healthy. The preparation of their meals is also very labor-intensive, making lunchtime a major production in the kitchen everyday.
Finland sees proper nutrition in school meals as an investment. Children from pre-primary to upper secondary education receive a free school meal. The country is concerned about nutrition being important to the wholesome wellbeing of the child, as well as his ability to absorb information, grow and develop. Individuals with specific nutritional needs are given specific meals agreed to be the child, his parents, and the school management. Meals typically include a serving of a warm main course, bread and spread, a vegetable side dish, and a drink. Aside from providing healthy meals, the focus of meal breaks also center around relaxation and giving children time to socialize with each other. Finland really takes lunchtime as a holistic activity, and gives emphasis not only to the nutritional aspect of the task, but also the social and emotional bonding that comes with eating together with friends and colleagues.
This country has the second largest school-feeding program in the world, and gives school lunches to 42 million kids. Brazil decided to take action upon the rising rates of childhood obesity in the country by tackling it through their lunch programs, which require 30% of the ingredients of the lunches to be locally sourced. This ensures that the meals are made with fresh produce and less preservatives, and promotes development of the rural communities and the income of local farmers as well. Another way Brazil helps with the nutrition of their pupils is promoting the cultivation of school gardens, wherein the children are allowed to choose the produce to be used for their meals, which then serves the dual purpose of education and nutrition.