When my oldest daughter turned 6, we moved to Italy and started first grade at the small public elementary school in our town. Both of my children attend school there now. It took a while for me to get adjusted to how basic the facility seemed. The elementary school I went to in the US as a child had a huge playground, a nice gym, auditorium, cafeteria, etc. The school here is meager in comparison, but the teachers are devoted and the kids do not realize their school is not well-equipped, so they all get along just fine.
The second thing that struck me was the school lunch. The school day runs from 8:30 am to 4:30pm. The lunch break starts at 12:30 and lasts until 2:30. The children can choose to go home and eat with their family or they can eat at school, but they cannot bring their lunch to school. Each class eats lunch together with their own teacher and then goes outside to play. The teachers peel their apples, cut their pears and make sure each child tries everything. All the lunches are made at a central catering location and transported to the school by truck. The cost of a lunch is €4.50 or roughly $6.20 at today’s exchange rate. The menu lists extensive details about the quality of the ingredients as follows:
All bread is organic made from flour, water, extra virgin olive oil, salt and yeast. All pasta, oats, flour, beef, butter, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes, apples, oranges, and beans are organic. All vegetables are organic one day a week and grown with integrated pest management four times a week. Tomatoes used for sauce and all other vegetables are never packed in cans. The only frozen vegetables used are green beans, spinach and peas. All fruit is seasonal and fresh and if not organic, is grown with integrated pest management practices. All grated cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano aged a minimum of 24 months. All meat, if not organic, is raised in Italy to their standards for free range, etc. Meals do not contain any additives, preservatives or food coloring. All ingredients are GMO free. No food is fried. Each meal consists of 820 calories, equal to 40% of the RDA for that age group. If a student has a special dietary request, they must get a note from a pediatrician and a special meal is prepared for them each day (vegetarian, gluten free, etc.) With a note from a pediatrician, special meals are prepared for children with health concerns like diabetes..
Here is a typical menu for one week. It includes a list of ingredients for all dishes with multiple ingredients, like sauces.
MONDAY- Whole Wheat Fusilli with tomato and basil sauce, Prosciutto and Ham, Salad with lettuce and radicchio, Fresh fruit.
TUESDAY- Cavatelli with pesto, Meatballs made with organic beef, Peas cooked in tomato sauce, Fresh Fruit.
WEDNESDAY- Potato, Cabbage and Leak soup with Oat berries, Chicken Breast cooked with sage, Mix of three cooked vegetables, Cookies
THURSDAY- Pasta with meat sauce (pork, chicken, turkey, whole peeled tomatoes, porcini mushrooms, herbs) Breaded pumpkin slices baked with Scamorza cheese, Fresh vegetable, Fresh Fruit
FRIDAY- Organic rice with red lentils, Baked fish burger, Fresh vegetables, Fresh fruit
Out of curiosity, I looked at what my children would be eating at the local elementary school in the US.
Obviously, there are cultural differences in the menus. I did not find any information with regard to the quality of the ingredients used to make the lunches in the US. The price of the US lunch is $2.35, nearly a third of what the lunch costs in Italy. Should we be spending more for a better lunch? If anyone is part of a school system going organic, please send your story to us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share. We would love to hear your story too!