What Greek Kids are Eating for Lunch and Why American School Lunches Should be More Greek

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When you look at this photo which is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it makes you feel good. Truthfully, it looks healthy, fresh, good for you. It is titled: Fresh vegetable cups prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

There is only one problem.

Does this taste good? I mean really good. Are kids looking forward to eating raw carrots, broccoli and radishes? And let’s be honest here: do you as an adult, look forward to eating raw vegetables in this manner? I think not. There are only so many raw broccoli florets or carrot sticks one can eat–even with a dip. But yet time and time again in the U.S., attempts are made to fulfill vegetable requirements by offering raw or plainly cooked vegetables. It- does- not- work.

With this vegetable cup from the National School Lunch Program, kids are getting 1-2 servings of vegetables. That is if they actually eat them. Do they?

Here in Greece we eat vegetables as a main course, we cook all sorts of vegetables in olive oil and tomato. And then we eat this with bread and cheese, and it’s delicious. The Spanish do this and so do the Italians.

One average serving for a child, will provide between 3-4 servings of vegetables. So kids actually do not need to worry about getting more vegetables the rest of the day. And it’s actually supposed be consumed at room temperature plus it lasts 3 days, so financially it is a good idea for schools.

Maybe the folks who come up with these lunches need to rethink the meals. How about cooked vegetables? Mediterranean style?

Looking at American lunches served in the schools, what I see for the most part are chicken nuggets, pizza, mac & cheese, and yes those raw vegetables accompanied with dips or melted cheese.

Now here in Greece, while I’ve talked about our health issues and weight situation several times, for the most part we still do our lunches pretty well (for kids that is).

I recently started doing some consulting work for an elementary school here in Athens, Greece and along with preparing my own children’s school lunches I have been thinking a bit more about this whole school lunch issue in the US.

While most kids still eat at home as lunch is the main meal of the day in Greece, and can be consumed anywhere between 1 and 4, schools that do serve lunch do it fairly well.

If you take a look at the school I work with (here is a menu, yes it’s all Greek to you, but I’ll do the translations). Children including pre-school and kindergarten have the following lunches throughout the week: Green Beans (Lathero) cooked with olive oil and tomato accompanied with feta cheese, Peas again cooked in olive oil along with feta, Lentils, Roasted Chicken with vegetables, Beef Patty with vegetables, Soup with beef and vegetables and Spinach pie and oh yes, they have pizza once every couple of months with just cheese and tomato.lunch

While it may have a bit more meat that I would have preferred, this is a pretty good menu. Who can beat vegetables as a main course? And one of the favorite meals of many Greek children is lentils, believe it or not.

By cooking vegetables with a healthy tomato sauce as a main course not only do you make vegetables tastier but also something children will actually look forward to eating, and in many cases they are healthier; the fat causes higher absorption of certain antioxidants and vitamins. But bottom line, they just taste better that way and you can eat more of them.

But even if you are looking for ideas to make for your child’s lunch, Mediterranean inspired meals are one of the best ways to serve vegetables to your children. First try making these and tasting them at home to get familiarized with these dishes and then try them for their lunch at school.

A lunch for your child can be:

(click on the links for the recipe).

Photos by the US Department of Agriculture for flickr, Elena Paravantes

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19 Comments

  • Reply Thiago October 9, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Hello! I’m from Brazil and i had discovered this site in these days…It’s awesome! I Am a younger student of Nutrition and i really love the alimentation with natural foods, like the greek people make. Thank you for share this with we and congratulations!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RD October 9, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Thank you Thiago!

    • Reply Patricia Kapsokavadis Rosborough October 19, 2014 at 1:50 am

      I agree with what you are saying – can I share any recipes with my friends, cheers Trish

      • Reply Elena Paravantes RD October 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

        Thanks Patricia! Sure

  • Reply Pami Taylor October 10, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    As a very strong proponent of the Med. diet – I could not agree with you more!!!
    I lived in Greece (Athens and Mykonos) for a total of abt. 18-1/2 yrs … resulting in the fact that I still cook the way I did when living there despite the fact that I’ve been back in the states since the fall of 1998.
    Food today is so “iffy” – especially the prepared frozen meals and boxed food kits (ie Hamburger/Tuna Helper) which are full of artificial flavourings and colourings as well as toxic additives/preservatives … and then there are the canned veggies (yuck!).
    Cooking healthy food is great fun and so easy; plus getting the kids involved in putting the week’s meals together over the week-end will introduce new and fun foods to their diet. Once the healthy eating is introduced into the home – the kids will be willing to eat the healthy foods in the school cafeteria. The schools can do only so much – they can fix the healthy meals … the kids may or may not eat them; if they do – fantastic … but then when they are home for supper it easily could be “garbage” from the local fast-food restaurant.
    Apologies for the babbling … 🙂

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RD October 11, 2014 at 6:36 am

      Thank you Pami! I agree. Cooking healthy is easy and home is where everything starts, I just wish these school lunch meals try and stay away from all the processed foods just because it is easier to get kids to eat it.

  • Reply Hala October 10, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Hello,
    I love greek food for thee are so many dishes are so close to the Lebanese Cuisine.
    I do look forward to receiving receipts and tips.

    Thank you,

    Hala Hamam Bahouth

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RD October 11, 2014 at 6:37 am

      Thank you Hala. Love Lebanese food!

  • Reply Ειδήσεις για τις Η.Π.Α που μπορεί να ενδιαφέρουν. October 11, 2014 at 8:36 am

    […] Greek Kids are Eating for Lunch and Why American School Lunches Should be More Greek Read more: What Greek Kids are Eating for Lunch and Why American School Lunches Should be More Greek | Olive To… http://cupcaketherightshape.blogspot.gr/ Ενα Cupcake την ημέρα την […]

  • Reply Marley Ely October 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Hello Elena! I am a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and am currently in my third year studying to become a Registered Dietitian. I, too, am interested in gaining work abroad after I complete the internship and get a foundational background as an RD. If you don’t mind, could you give me a few tips and a brief story of how you went through the process of moving to Europe?

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RD October 14, 2014 at 8:21 am

      Hi Marley,
      Actually I am presenting a session next week at Food and Nutrition Expo of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics about this very topic. Are you attending?

  • Reply Cheryl October 14, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Wise words indeed. I’m in Australia and there have been massive improvement in school canteen food here. We have a traffic light system (Green – everday foods/ Amber – occasional foods / Red – treat or special occasion food and only offered once a term). Lots more vegie options offered – including soups and salads and spinach/feta combinations. How lovely it would be though to serve real Mediterranean food at school … but meanwhile I’ll keep on giving my grandson such delights when he comes over to stay.

    Kids (well him anyway) are sponges for good food. He loves it when I cook Briami with a chunk of good bread or a little bit of pasta and some feta or parmesan.

    Very interesting, thank you.

  • Reply Dionysios roussos January 23, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Για σας I agree that ελλινικα people should eat healthy

  • Reply Kim March 7, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Love and agree with this idea. Also, am not Greek, but am 32 and have been with Greek hubby since we were 15, so I grew up eating a lot of these things… but you know how it is asking older Greeks for recipes. IMPOSSIBLE to duplicate. Your recipes are by far the most authentic I’ve seen, and the Mediterranean diet is something near and dear to my heart, even in frigid Montreal. I am in love with your site!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RD March 12, 2015 at 6:51 am

      Thank you Kim!

  • Reply Michael Karakostas April 21, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    First of all… great site.
    Both the recipes-photos and texts are spot on.
    The only issue with this article is that these lunches are only served in private schools at best.
    At regular schools there is a canteena with various pies (spanakopita – cheese) and other baked goods.
    Fruit and veggies are almost out of the question.

  • Reply What is your Food Bubble and How to Make it Change | March 4, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    […] start eating it? That’s a lot. Kids do have the potential to like healthy foods. I read a blog post from Elena Paravantes that mentioned lentils was one of Greek kids favorite school lunches. Do kids […]

  • Reply Stratis March 7, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Is that why Greece has the highest percentage of child obesity in all of Europe? Although the menus of school canteens are healthy, unless the school has mandatory attendance and eating at school, kids choose to leave the school campus and buy unhealthy choices. There is a major problem with school canteens here in Greece and getting the kids to eat at school. The kids are just not eating healthy anymore.

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