French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Rising inflation means that France's school lunches are becoming more expensive, but rather than pass on the cost to parents some schools are looking for more budget options - from scrapping the cheese course to going vegetarian and using special offer products to make meals.

French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites
Children have lunch at school in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, southern France. Meanwhile, concerns rise about the price of canteen meals. (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

France is the land of gastronomy, but even so, French school lunches are often surprising and impressive for foreigners – particularly for those who grew up in countries where the options were a bit less nutritious (ie pizza, chicken nuggets, and sandwiches). 

In France, a typical school lunch consists of a starter, main course and side dish, dessert (often fruit or yoghurt) and cheese. 

The meal must follow strict nutritional guidelines, for instance, schools must “limit the frequency of high-fat and high-sugar meals” and ensure proper, age-appropriate portion sizes” and many schools use organic or locally-sourced produce.

From the start of 2022, the government stipulated that school meals are required to be “50 percent sustainable quality food products,” of which “at least 20 percent of which must be organically produced.”

Since 2019 school canteens must also have at least one meat-free day per week.

READ MORE: Do French kids get the best school lunches in the world?

However, faced with increasing food prices due to inflation, French school canteens are being forced to cut their rising expenses. Many (about half of French municipalities) have responded by increasing lunch prices. Since the start of the 2022-2023 school year, school lunches have risen on average by €0.27.

But not every municipality is raising prices. Some are looking to modify their famously fabulous lunch menus…including dropping the cheese. 

Here is how lunch plates are changing in France:

Dropping a course 

The small town of Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf, located in the Seine-Maritime region, has decided to revise primary school students’ meal plans. Depending on the day, either the starter, cheese or dessert will be removed, with the objective of keeping school lunch prices from increasing for families. 

The town’s mayor, Laurent Bonnaterre, has promised that this decision was taken in consultation with parents.

“Even at home we don’t eat five-course meals!” said Bonnaterre to Franceinfo. Local authorities also assured that the nutritional benefits of the meals will continue to be respected, and that removing one component of the meal will not upset that.

Increasing vegetarian and organic options 

In the Alpes-Maritimes region, some towns, like Mouans-Sartoux, have opted to increase vegetarian options and reduce the amount of meat on the menus, something that several Green party controlled areas were already doing for environmental reasons. 

The deputy mayor told Franceinfo that “these products cost half as much to produce.” The town has increased vegetarian meals from 40 percent to 50 percent.

Bordeaux schools have also sought to increase vegetarian options. The city has also opted for organic bread, because it is cheaper to make, and it has switched from sunflower oil to olive oil. 

READ MORE: Why French school dinners are going vegetarian – at least for one day a week

Special offers

School lunch menus are published in advance, but in Limoges, the commune has decided to use more generic menus, so they can take advantage of last-minute special offers or deals.

“We indicate the main course and for the rest, we are more vague. For example instead of announcing strawberry yogurt, we announce dairy products,” explained Vincent Julby, the first deputy in charge of educational policy to 20 minutes.

“This allows us to take advantage of special offers on certain products, which are cheaper, or local products.”

Limiting food waste

In Le Mans, public officials are proposing a different solution altogether. The municipality is asking parents to give at least eight days of notice if their child will be skipping lunch at the canteen. If they fail to do so, then they will be charged at the maximum rate. The goal is to save costs by limiting food waste.

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Who is the Czech billionaire who has saved left-leaning French newspaper Libération?

He owns the 18th-century Chateau du Marais, has stakes in supermarket Casino and Fnac stores, part owns Le Monde and has now rescued France's left-leaning daily newspaper Liberation.

Who is the Czech billionaire who has saved left-leaning French newspaper Libération?

The Czech billionaire businessman Daniel Kretinsky agreed to finance the loss-making French left-leaning daily Libération until it breaks even, according to the paper’s owners on Tuesday.

The billionaire agreed to lend €14 million to Libération to guarantee “the financing of the title until its return to equilibrium” in 2026.

So who is Kretinsky and what else does he own in France?

Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky gives a speech during the 13th “Rencontres de l’Udecam” in Paris on September 5, 2019.  (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

Other French media: Prior to Libération, Kretinsky had already heavily invested in French media as owner of Elle magazine and part-owner of the daily Le Monde. Kretinsky’s foundation will also inject €1 million into the Fund for the Support of Independent Media (FDPI), the majority-owners of Liberation, according to an internal announcement made by Liberation’s Managing Director Denis Olivennes.

Tuesday’s statement quoted Kretinsky as saying he was “happy to participate in this way to the continued existence of an independent newspaper that is essential to democratic debate”.

Retail chains – Kretinsky’s high-profile investments in France include minority stakes in the convenience store and online retailer Casino, as well as in the electronics, books and media group Fnac Darty.

An 18th century castle – His last big acquisition in France was the historic 18th-century Chateau du Marais castle outside Paris, adding a luxury hotel project to his existing French media and retailing empire.

Kretinsky is 47 years old, and has a net worth of approximately €5 billion, according to Forbes magazine.