Photos of School Lunches Around the World Show What America's Children Should Really Be Eating

Think back to the lunches you had back in school, and you'll probably remember pizza, tater tots and the occasional mystery meat "specials."

It's the sort of cuisine that gives U.S. school lunches a bad name — and not just for their lackluster taste. Some say that there's a link between school lunches and childhood obesity.

A 2011 study of 1,000 sixth graders living in southeastern Michigan found that the students who regularly had school lunches were 29% more likely to be obese than classmates who brought lunches from home. 

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. school meals still exceed the recommended fat content and sodium allowance, according to government estimates.

It's no surprise then that first lady Michelle Obama has been focusing her anti-childhood obesity efforts on American school lunches. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires public schools to follow new nutritional guidelines this academic year to receive extra federal lunch aid and provide students with healthier meals at school. That means low-fat protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables instead of greasy pizza slices, sloppy Joes and oily french fries.

But Americans are just starting to do what many other countries have been doing all along: putting a premium on feeding schoolchildren a healthy lunch. 

The Associated Press' new photo series on school lunches around the world helps us compare school lunches in the United States with what kids in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America ate for lunch last week.

1. Indonesia

Sri, a housemaid, shows a lunch box she prepared for her employer's child in Jakarta consisting of meatball soup, rice, tofu and vegetables.

However, not every student can afford to bring a lunch to school. Public school students often buy their lunch at school cafeterias or food stalls near the school. The price for one pancake at a food stall is about  $.01.

2. Argentina

In Argentina, most children count on a relative providing a hot, homemade lunch before or after they attend public school. Schools in Argentina are generally taught in four-hour shifts in the morning or afternoon.

This meal at a school in Buenos Aires included an empanada of meat, milanesa (meat covered with egg and bread) and potato.

3. France

School lunches are taken just as seriously as meals for an adult and are often hot, multi-course and involve vegetables.

Children at the Anne Franck school in Lambersart, northern France, were served ratatouille, salmon, rice, a chunk of baguette and an orange.


4. India

In Jammu, 5-year-old Baani's lunch is prepared by her mother and consists of roti (an Indian flatbread), a turnip dish and mangoes.

While most school lunches are prepared at home, there is also a midday meal, a massive school feeding program that reaches out to millions of children in primary schools across the country to help enhance school enrollment, attendance and improve their nutritional levels.

5. United States

In Federal Way, Wash., schools have embraced the new American school lunch standards.

At Mirror Lake Elementary near Seattle, student lunches included whole grain grilled cheese sandwiches with low-fat, low-sodium cheese, fresh carrots, corn salad, applesauce and low-fat milk.

6. Spain

In Barcelona, a school lunch at El Caminet del Besos kindergarten included cream of vegetable soup, pan-fried breast of veal with salad, an orange or banana, a piece of bread and water.

7. United Kingdom

At a primary school in London, students were offered a choice between two lunch trays during lunch break.

The meal pictured here included pasta with fresh broccoli, seasonal fruit and slices of bread. The other tray included vegetable chili with rice and fresh broccoli, sponge cake with custard and a banana. The drink options included milk and water.

8. Cuba

Milagro Ramos, a student at the Angela Landa elementary school in Havana, was served lunch that included a chicken croquette, rice, yellow pea soup and a piece of taro root. Ramos also brought fried plantains and an orange drink from home. Drinks are usually provided by the students.

9. Ecuador

This student's lunch box from home at an elementary school in Quito, included a ham sandwich with cheese, tomato and lettuce, an apple and a boxed oatmeal drink.

10. Singapore

At Delcare Edu Center, a kindergarten and child care center in the business district of Singapore, lunch is prepared daily by the school's kitchen staff who take great care to promote healthy eating through their selection of ingredients and food preparation methods.

The school principal prepares a weekly menu every term while children are taught to accept a variety of food. Healthy snacks served between meals include homemade bread, natural beans, soups, barley and fruits.

11. West Bank

Palestinian students in the West Bank usually eat their school lunches in the school yard since there are no dining rooms in schools.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian students hold up their homemade sandwiches of pita bread stuffed with olive oil and zaatar, a middle eastern blend of herbs and spices, during their half-hour lunch break at about 11 a.m.

12. Pakistan

Most of the kids at the Bahria Foundation school in Rawalpindi have home-cooked meals for lunch that included eggs, chicken nuggets, bread rice or noodles. Some lunches included minced mutton or beef and vegetables that is usually prepared and cooked at home the night before.

"If we discover that a child has junk food, we ask his or her parents to please make a little effort for their child's health," said Principal Syeda Arifa Mohsin.


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Hyacinth Mascarenhas

Hyacinth is a graduate of the George Washington University where she majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. Her interests include cultural, social and political trends in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as human rights issues across the globe.

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