School dinners in France

I will be writing quite a few posts about school in France in this blog, as much as a reference for me as to help others curious about what happens at schools in this country.

Having spent the last three years at the village creche, Super PG started pre-school, or “maternelle”, as it is called in France, on September 1, 2015. After attending a parents meeting not long ago and hearing about what the children do at the school we are nothing but impressed.

For this first academic year the focus is on “language” and they do all kinds of activities throughout the day (I shall write about these in more detail later on) that will help these little people learn how to communicate as best they can.

About pre-school or “maternelle”

The “école maternelle” or pre-school accommodates three to six year olds and in Super PG’s class there are 27 children. It isn’t mandatory for children to go to school until they are six here, but many parents choose to send their children to “maternelle” for the three years prior to primary school (“école élémentaire”).

Picture of an “école maternelle” in Bandol (photo: Toi & Moi)
Picture of an “école maternelle” in Bandol (photo: Toi & Moi)

After a few wobbles in weeks two and three – mainly I think due to the big boys hogging the bikes and riding too fast on them during the “récré” (break time) – Super PG is now happy to say goodbye in the morning without any tears and run off to his friends.

We noticed in a school document (of which there are many) the other day that there is now a rule where the older children are only allowed on the bikes for half the break. I’m not sure if this had anything to do with Super PG’s experience – after the third week of school he was no longer mentioning this as a problem, before this he was telling us every day that he was scared of them – but now the smaller children are given the bikes for the second half, so any stress relating to this situation has thankfully disappeared.

As the “maternelle” is next door to the creche, Super PG has been able to start school with at least ten of his friends. This has helped the transition enormously. Even the teacher said that where she usually sings alone during singing sessions for the first couple of months, this year most of the kids are singing with her, because they’ve been so used to it at the creche. She also says that they have a wonderful rapport and play with each other in a way that her class don’t usually do until January. It’s because of this that she lets them play a little longer in the mornings after they arrive.

The day at this “maternelle” starts at 8.35am when the gates open and school starts at 8.45am. They have lunch at 12pm – either in the canteen or at home (and for some, school finishes at this time unless you opt for them to stay) – and then after lunch they have a sleep. One large classroom has been made into a dormitory full of little beds, it is just so adorable. After their sleep they eat what has been packed for them (by the parents) in their snack box, and then it is 3.45pm and time to go home.

The full-day version is Super PG’s routine on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, but on Wednesdays he finishes at 12pm, all the kids do, and he has lunch at home with me.

School dinners in France

Having knowledge of what Super PG ate at the creche made signing him up for school dinners at the canteen very easy as they use the same food supplier.

Of course, over the past year or so we’ve had the usual meal-time struggles at home that you have with a toddler, but since he was physically able to sit at a table, Super PG has done so every lunchtime both at creche and at home, and now it’s the same at school.

It has really helped to support us in our mission of eating together for every meal possible, having fun meal times (not always, haha) and talking about the day over dinner. As a family this is very important to us.

Super PF also now sits with us at the table too, and has been since she was four-and-a-half months old. Actually eating with us, at the same height and at the same time was bizarrely the only thing that stopped her crying through every single meal time. As she was breastfeeding so often during the early months, pretty much every meal time was disrupted by screaming and ended up with me breastfeeding her while we were eating our dinner. Needless to say entertaining friends was not really possible during this rather chaotic period.

Now, however, she’s eating solid food like a champion and relative peace has returned to our dinner table, which is a big relief.

Sample lunch menus in French pre-school

Each day the kids at our “maternelle” have a four-course meal, which looks something like this:

The weekly lunch menu is posted on the classroom window for parents to see
The weekly lunch menu is posted on the classroom window for parents to see

Monday

  • Melon
  • Couscous agneau (lamb couscous)
  • Fromage (cheese)
  • Velouté Fruix (fruity yoghurt)

Tuesday

  • Cruidités (sliced raw vegetables)
  • Fraisinat de porc aux pommes de terres (pork and potato dish)
  • Fromage
  • Raisin ou nectarine (grapes or nectarine)

Thursday

  • Tarte paysanne (quiche)
  • Rôti de dinde (roast turkey)
  • Haricots verts sautés (green beans)
  • Fromage
  • Mousse au chocolat (chocolate mousse)

Friday

  • Cruidités
  • Blanquette de poisson (fish stew)
  • Cœur de blé (it is this product, like pre-cooked and pre-prepared wheat berries)
  • Fromage
  • Compote (cooked fruit, such as apple, chilled and served often in puree form)

Knowing that Super PG eats so well during the week – and that he behaves really well while he does so – makes it a lot less stressful if we have a difficult dinner at home where he’s stroppy and decides he doesn’t want to eat much. We know he will have eaten his way through a four-course meal at lunch time, at least!

All parents of toddlers know that they save the “good stuff” for their parents in the evenings!

What is your child’s experience of school dinners?

I’ve never put kids through school before, in the UK (where I went to school) or France, or anywhere else for that matter, so I am really curious to find out how this lunch menu compares.

Does your child eat food like this at their school canteen every lunch time?

Please leave a comment and share your experience if you can – it’s going to make for some interesting reading.

Thanks a million for stopping by.

WSM x

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5 thoughts on “School dinners in France

  1. Hi Fran – thanks for the interesting read. Interesting to hear how things are done in other countries. We pack a lunch for preschool. They are really strict (healthy items only, water only, no packaging….) anything unhealthy returns home. Can’t say my lunch boxes are as well balanced as what you describe there. They also share a fruit break where parents bring a piece of fruit which is cut up for all to share. Some centres provide meals but they tend to be the long day care centres (open early til late), our preschool is school hours only (9-3pm).

    Interesting that it isn’t mandatory to start until 6yo in France… what age do most start? Its a question I’m interested in as we had to decide to start Ava next year (at 5) or the year after (at 6)… we ended up deciding to start her at 6.

    Nic

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    1. Hi Nic,

      You’re all the way over the other side of the world in beautiful Oz! Thanks ever so much for reading the blog and taking the time to comment. It is great to hear how things are done down under and to discover how strict they are. How do you know what will be accepted? Do you receive a document saying what’s ok and what’s not, or do parents have to learn by trial and error (ie, just by the retuning of unhealthy items). No packaging? Wow.
      Here we have to pack a snack box, which they open up after their sleep and before the end of the school day. Soft fruit pouches are what most people seem to pack (the squeeze and suck type – I wonder if that counts as packaging). Boudoirs (biscuits with a bit of sugar on the top) are also popular and given by the crèche too at snack times. So I don’t think their snacks would always fit into your school system’s idea of “healthy”. I often pack some grapes, a fruit pouch and a chocolate dinosaur biscuit (which I’m guessing would be sent back by your school, lol).

      I love the fruit break idea – I’m wondering if it gets competitive between parents, who brings the most exciting fruits….? I haven’t detected any competition between mums here really so far. Not sure whether that’s unique to where I live or just the countryside, it could be different in the cities….
      I talked to Super H about your question about school just to be sure. It seems to me that most people send their kids to “maternelle” at three and he confirmed this is the case. Having lived most of his life in France he said he’s never really come across any families who didn’t send their kids to school at three. I know that some parents choose just the mornings sometimes, feeling that for a three year old a whole school day is a bit much. But, to be honest, it’s lunch, play, sleep and snack, so the afternoon is just relaxing and fun.

      In terms of cost, pre-school is free so for parents that need to work it appears to be the most obvious option. Some parents, however, also use the services of a nounou (nanny), although this can be more expensive, and also use the “halte-garderie” or “centres de loisirs” at the school for childcare at the school outside of school hours and during the vacations. This is at an additional cost, but is also subsidised by the government (I’m going to write a post on this soon).

      The consensus among the French mums I know is that starting “maternelle” at three helps to get them into the school routine, and even though it can be a bit tough during the first few weeks, once it is done it is done. Starting school is so much easier (as we found with the transition from crèche to “maternelle”) if they have their mates around them and this time together socialises them, enables them to eat together on a daily basis and allows them to build strong friendships from an early age.

      I know absolutely nothing about the school system in Australia. What are your options for Ava if she doesn’t go to school? And do they have to have started by the time they are six too?

      Sorry for such a long reply – it’s really interesting learning about the differences.
      x

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      1. Hi WSM – its lovely thinking of you all the way over in France… Aunty S has promised my girls a trip to Paris when they are 16 and I am sure they will hold her to it. So jealous she gets to visit you after xmas. I just read your blog about breast to bottle… thank you for sharing so honestly, I really enjoyed reading it. Almost 40.. welcome to the club! Just to answer your questions – the preschool does provide a list of healthy verses unhealthy options… some people ‘cheat’ by pretending something they bought is homemade (eg banana bread) – I think that is pretty funny. The kids seem to know if something wrong gets packed and confess to the teacher. I guess its a good move considering how many kids are unfortunately overweight in Aus. Schools are also given incentives to have healthy canteens though this is harder to reinforce. Pretty sure Ava will have another year at preschool next year so that she starts school ‘ready’ (at almost 6yo). Do most kids there start at 5 or 6? Xxx

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  2. Hello!
    So sorry for the delay replying, I went into hospital on Tuesday for a procedure on my back and although it was pretty quick I can’t do as much post-op as before as it’s a bit sore, so it’s taking me a while to get around to everything.
    Is mum going to come as well as Aunty S? A girly trip to Paris sounds too delicious to resist, does it not?!
    Want to say thank you so much for reading this blog. It’s always a challenge to find the right audience at the start, I want to share the things I don’t want to forget, but also share as honestly as I can and be useful at the same time. It’s really encouraging to get positive feedback, so thanks again.
    I was actually pretty shocked at first to read that parents in Oz try to cheat, but then realised that actually that must be quite a big pressure on parents. Do you find that?
    I’m glad I can grab a fruit pouch to put in Super PG’s snack box, I simply don’t have time to make everything from scratch, even though I would love to! Maybe some parents don’t realise that by relieving the pressure on them, it’s actually falling on to the kids to ‘fess up to the teacher. It’s funny, but a bit of a complicated loop too. If only we could all be super mums and bake sugar-free fruit cupcakes and home made banana bread all the time, and work and be at school on time, and… the list goes on. That’s why I’m a “wannabe supermaman”, I know I fall short and that aspiring to be a super mum is probably the closest I’m ever gonna get. How do you manage to meet the criteria each day? You ARE a super mum!
    Here most kids start at the age of 6 at primary school. This first year is for 6-7 year olds and is called CP (or Cours préparatoire), but it depends on when they were born that year. Those with birthdays after they start in September (la rentrée) will start when they are five (so Super PG, with a birthday in October, is one of the youngest in his class as most had already turned three), but those who were six between January and la rentrée will start at six and turn seven during the course of the following year. Hope that makes sense.
    Does Ava like pre-school? Super PG’s favourite thing is riding the bikes at break time :).
    Lovely hearing about what you’re up to and how things compare in Australia!!
    xxx

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