As American school lunches are a hot topic that I pay more and more attention to, when I meet any moms who have children in the French school system, I immediately ask them about their experience with the cantine. Luckily, Kale-Love Katie, who moved here with her husband and daughter is having a unique experience at her daughter’s creche. Read more about it here and thank you Katie for contributing!
Our daughter, who is almost two years old, goes to a collectively-run crèche in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. Called a crèche parental, the families of all the children participate in making the crèche run. Each family works a half-day a week at the crèche, sitting with the children, and also performs a function from home: scheduling, safety and hygiene, planning activities, handyman work. Our family’s job is to plan the menu for the crèche. We work with four other families on the ‘fonction cuisine’ and take turns planning a week’s menu, ordering the ingredients online, and picking up fresh items during the week.
The children are served a three-course, mostly organic lunch, and a snack each day. The meal is comprised of a starter (entrée), main (plat) and dessert. It’s usually something like a soup, or vegetables or salad to start, then a protein and a grain, and a fruit or yogurt for dessert. The snack, served in the afternoon after a nap, is usually fruit or cheese and bread, yogurt, crackers or cookies. Sometimes it is chocolate or cake or something fresh from the boulangerie. The meals are vegetarian one day a week, two days a week are fish, and two days a week are meat like chicken, turkey, ham, etc. There is a cook on-premise who prepares the food, and we always check with her before setting our menus to make sure the meals are feasible. All the fruits, vegetables, and dairy products are ordered from an organic food distributor, toutelabio, and the meats are bought fresh during the week from the butcher (not organic). The fish is bought frozen at Picard.
Our family is vegetarian, and I thought at first it might be hard for us to plan so many meat-based meals. The first week we planned a menu, we decided to look back at old menus from the crèche and pick and choose recipes that had already been done. It didn’t occur to us that some of the dishes might not have been successful with the children! One day we put a lamb and prune recipe on the menu, which didn’t go over well. (Of course toddlers probably wouldn’t be able to get through a tough bite of lamb!)
I was fascinated to hear the French families discussing what flavors and types of food they would like to introduce to their children. And I was excited to get our child into the mix, hoping to broaden her familiarity with different kinds of foods. When we raised the question about serving tofu to the kids, it was discussed at a general meeting and agreed upon by all the families before trying a tofu dish. We found a recipe on an American site for an oven-baked tofu in sesame oil and honey. We heard none of the kids liked it that day. I’m not sure how the recipe translated.
That’s another thing—when we plan our menus, I often want to bring in interesting (perhaps unfamiliar to the French) vegan grains and beans dishes, and then my husband has to translate them into French. We have now learned to find recipes in French (mostly on marmiton.com). If I find something special in English—like a chestnut soup I got off of Jamie Oliver’s site (which was a big hit!) then we’ll translate it. It means translating the ingredients, and also the imperial measurements to metric, as well as all the cooking terms (which I worry may look like gibberish to our chef).
The children all eat together at low tables, with an adult at each table. They all wash their hands at a mini sink before the meal, and are given bibs. Everyone is expected to sit down through the entire meal, and if they get up, they’re not allowed back at the table. The children quickly learn this rule, and it’s amazing to see 22 toddlers seated calmly through a rather long meal. They often sit several minutes between courses and the adults (trained professionals employed by the crèche, and parent volunteers) discuss the experience with the children. Many children take seconds and thirds of things that they like. They drink water out of small glasses. At the end of the meal, they wipe their own hands and faces with wet cloths. It’s usually a pretty calm and enjoyable time.
Thank you, Kristen, for inviting me to post on The Kale Project! If anyone out there knows any good kale recipes for small children, please share them—I would love to get them on the menu when the Paris kale is back in season.