What's In Your Lunchbox? Lunches From Around The World

lunchbox, food
Photo by Andy Crawford/Getty Image

by Giulia Rozzi

Forget the fish sticks, toss aside those tater tots, put away that pb&j (you get the gist, right?). There is more to kids' lunches than what’s in the brown paper bag of American school children. All over the world, kids have their own lunchtime traditions. Here’s a list of just some of the different ways kids across the globe are consuming their afternoon meal.


Wow, is this school lunch or a jacket-required five-star restaurant? In France, lunch is provided by the school offering kids quite a fancy fare. Lunch usually includes a choice of salads, e.g., mâche with smoked salmon and asparagus, paired with guinea fowl with roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables, plus washed-rind cheese with French bread and a dessert of strawberries or clafoutis. And these delicacies are served on heated plates with real silverware. Ooh la la!


In Italy school meals are not just about feeding hungry students; they are also about teaching children about local traditions and supporting sustainable farming. And no, they don’t just eat spaghetti, although it is part of the rotating pasta selection. A typical lunch served by the school could be zucchini risotto and a mozzarella, tomato and basil salad. As the daughter of two Italian-immigrant parents I’m probably biased, but this school lunch sounds the most delizioso!


School lunchtime in Switzerland is an hour-long (I repeat, an HOUR LONG!) and served at tables set with plates, silverware, and cloth napkins. Each child keeps a toothbrush at school so they can wash-up after their meal. However the term “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” applies here. Following their leisurely, elegant meal kids are required to bus their dishes, wipe down the tables, and sweep the floor - teaching children excellent domestic habits at an early age.


In the Ukraine it’s all about the meat! Students first get an appetizer such as borsch, the traditional Ukrainian soup made out of beetroot, vegetables and meat, followed by more meat in the form of sausages or a cutlet (chopped meat mixed with egg and breadcrumbs) with mashed potatoes or boiled buckwheat. Dessert is often pancakes or syrki (you guessed it, chocolate covered meat! I’m kidding, it’s actually chocolate covered cream cheese).


Rice, fish, vegetable soup (with seaweed), perhaps some pickled cucumbers, and milk make up the typical lunch fare for Japanese school children. Meals are served with the teacher who eats the same food while teaching students to be mindful of wastefulness and discouraging picky eating. Good food plus good ethics? Talk about balancing the yin and yang.


The lunch of Norwegian kids sounds the most similar to that of American students. In Norway they don’t have school-prepared meals so all students lug a lunchbox usually consisting of a sandwich like cheese or salami. Most schools offer drinks and snacks like milk, yogurt or fruit.


School children in Kenya are eating Githeri, a simple yet nourishing dish combining beans and corn. This recipe originated with the Kikuyu tribe and is now the daily standard for Kenyan kids.


Spearheaded by TV chef Jamie Oliver, the campaign for healthier food in schools helped implement new nutrition policies giving school lunches in England a healthy makeover. Lunches now consist of one portion of vegetables and at least one portion of fruit every day accompanied by a healthy protein (such as salmon, processed meats are heavily restricted). Sweets are also banned except for the cocoa powder in the post-lunch dessert. Schools are still allowed to serve deep-fried foods, but only two items per week.


Kids down under are all under the influence of Vegemite, a dark brown Australian food paste made from yeast extract. Vegemite is an Australian staple most often spread on kids lunchtime sandwiches where it is paired with cheese like Kraft Cheddar.


Like in Japan, kids in Korea take turns serving their classmates - teaching them responsibility and respect. The center of the meal is rice often paired with kimchi (a traditional Korean pickled dish made of vegetables with varied seasonings) and soup with side dishes of veggies and fish.

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