Why French kids don’t get fat (hint: it’s their canteens!)

By Meg Yonson |

Yeah, it’s not just French women who don’t get fat…

While Australia blushes at the shocking statistics that 25 per cent of children are overweight, we just learned that only 14 per cent of French kids carry the same label. What’s the deal? We’ve already taken a peak into canteens around Australia to learn how much sugar and other nasties are being fed to our kids, but now we’re going global. We rank school canteens around the world from the worst, to the best, and the very ugly.

The worst: United States

Back in 2011 we learned that the US classified tomato paste on a pizza as a vegetable. But we wonder, is it any better now?

  • The lunch menu looks more like a fast food joint. One school in Philadelphia has their school canteen menu online. It includes cheese filled pretzels and bagels for lunch, waffles for breakfast and ‘Cheeze-it’s’ for snacks. We didn’t know what Cheeze-it’s were. It was worse than we thought.


      • Michelle Obama tried to help. But her new guidelines focused mainly on reducing calories. The kids are less than impressed with their small portions and have taken to social media, showing exactly what they get for lunch each day. Check out more horrific US lunch pictures here.

Not great: United Kingdom

  • A typical UK school lunch: provides 40 per cent more salt, 28 per cent more saturated fat and 20 per cent more sugar than recommended.
      • A pizza, one potato croquettes, and a tablespoon of corn to fuel a kid for the day? Nine-year-old Martha Payne (who calls herself “VEG”) set up her blog Never Seconds to post pictures of her daily lunch. To say it caused a bit of a stir is an understatement. The blog was picked up by the media, chef Jamie Oliver, and she soon had 10 million hits.
      • But, there’s new legislation in force: Thanks to Jamie Oliver and Martha alerting the nation to the state of UK canteen meals, there is now The Independent School Food Plan, which sets out to improve the standards in government schools. It brings in tap water and milk as drinks of choice, encourages kids to try new foods, and brings whole foods into the canteens.

Very good: Sweden

Sweden’s guidelines show just how much they care about how they feed their kids.

      • Every school kid gets a free feed, paid for by the government.
      • It’s a good meal too. The guidelines say every meal should contain a cooked main dish, veggies, and water or skim milk (we reckon full-fat would be better) to drink.

A usual lunch for Swedish kids an ‘Oven Omelette”.

      • They don’t serve any treats. No ice-cream, no pastries, no sugary drinks.
      • There’s no “kids’ food”. No Tiny Teddies or Paddlepops. The Kids JERF and eat the food adults do (or should).
      • Teachers eat their meals with the kids. Everyone eats the same thing and and teachers help encourage the kids to try new and different foods.

A selection of salads given to Swedish Kids for lunch.

The best: France

So French kids don’t get fat, either! Rhodes Scholar, Professor and blogger, Karen Ballion, says:

      • Six million french kids are fed a free meal each day.  All lunches are funded by local municipalities.
      • There is no kids’ food. Similar to Sweden. We think they’re on to something!

Typical French school lunch from Karen Le billion.

      • The kids eat veggies first. Because that’s when they are hungriest. Makes sense doesn’t it?
      • The menu is always available to parents. Check it out here.


So how do school canteens in AUS stack up?

      • Our guidelines are flimsy. We’ve covered this off here.
      • Which means Big Food is actually feeding our kids. Yep, Coco-pops, Tiny Teddies … the lot.

How does your school canteen fare against those around the world?

In a bid to really change the way our kids eat, we want to know what’s happening at your kids’ schools. What would you like to change, and can you pinpoint some atrocities?  Of course some are really making some innovative changes. If your school (Australia or overseas) is doing some great stuff, we want to hear about this too. Send over pictures (and stories) of kids lunches from their school canteens and email us at  Or, just comment below! Or (to keep it anonymous) please fill out the form below:

How does your school canteen stack up against those around the globe?

Please be respectful of other participants in the conversation. We'd love you to keep your comments respectful, friendly and relevant. Differences of opinion are welcome, but trolling and abuse of other commentators and the IQS editorial team is not and will result in blacklisting.

Latest tweets
Join our 1,400,000 followers!
IQS newsletter freebie
A Day in the Life of Quitting Sugar

Join our newsletter for the
best IQS tips, tricks and recipes
+ a free eBook!

Please enter a valid email address
Please enter a valid name