Notes on Food Culture: What are we teaching our kids about how to eat?

AN INTERESTING PIECE IN  TIME Magazine talks about how France uses the school lunch program to teach children about its food culture. From a young age, children are fed five course formal meals, with no repeats for a month. Each course complements the next, and recommendations are provided for what to serve at dinner.

A little over the top for the U.S., but for France, maybe the perfect way to pass down its food culture.

What is our food culture and what are we teaching our children about it?

IN OUR SCHOOLS, THE SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM is currently abysmal. For the most part, the food served is bottom of the barrel: chicken nuggets, greasy pizzas, processed cheeses, white bread, beef of a lower quality than served in fast food restaurants. Because of time constraints, kids have to rush through eating as fast as they can.

As for eating at home, in France, 13.6 percent of income is spent on food to be eaten at home. All eating is done at a table, as a meal, with out the snacking that is so prevalent in the U.S. Each meal is an event, with cooking beforehand and conversation during. The French consume a lot of rich foods like beef, butter, cheese, and cakes, but the U.S. is the country struggling with obesity.

In the U.S., we spend only 5.6 percent. As a nation, we spend less money because we’re focused on cheap calories, food gimmicks, and the convenience of prepared food instead of cooking. We want our meals to be quick and easy to make — if not provided for us completely made and ready to eat on the go (I’m talking to you, Campbells Soup at Hand and General Mills Milk n’ Cereal Bars.) Long, relaxing meals are saved for special occasions.

HMM. SO BASED ON ALL THAT, it sounds like our current food culture is spend as little as possible, cook as little as possible, and eat as fast as you can — oh and don’t forget to snack.

Instead, our food culture should be about eating cooking and eating healthy meals from ingredients we feel good about. In school, our children should be eating the highest quality food we can provide instead of the lowest.

Hopefully organizations like School Nutrition Association and Better School Food as well as the work Michelle Obama is doing will help in schools.

At home, we can all help by making more thoughtful food choices, cooking more, and eating as many meals as possible sitting at a table with our kids and talking.