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School food around the world

With students from countries all over the world, what can you expect from international schools when it comes to the food they provide?

If there can be said to be an international language these days, then it’s arguably food.  Western dress, music and films may be universally adopted, but our global eating habits are broader and we can expect to find sushi in Stockholm, burritos in Bangalore and pizza in, well, any city in the world.

Eating and laughing with friends

Eating and laughing with friends

When it comes to school food, the story is the same.  All over the world, international schools don’t just serve local food but nor do you find only American food at an American school or British food at a British school. There is almost always a ‘pick and mix’ feel to the menu, partly aimed at tempting the palates of students from many different countries, and partly reflecting just how far-reaching different food cultures are these days.  It’s as likely that a South American student’s favourite meal is an Italian pasta dish as a British student’s is a traditional Thai meal.

At the Nexus international school in Putrajaya, Malaysia, the lunchtime menu is themed, with a different nation’s cuisine featuring each day.  A typical week sees the children working their way through Chinese, Moroccan, French and Irish food, though each week finishes with fish and chips on a Friday (and what better way to end the week?).  The school’s kitchen prepares an incredible variety of dishes, from traditional British roast beef with cauliflower cheese to Malaysian Nasi Lemak and German schnitzel with parsley potatoes.

More commonly, schools will mix and match between cultures every day.  At the British School in Baku, Azerbaijan, there are sandwiches and panini available with fillings most British children would find familiar, but also buckwheat, borscht and bilinchik (a kind of pancake) on the menu.  Similarly, at the International School of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, the menu ranges from tacos and hamburgers to Burkinabe style stew, and pupils can choose between French fries or aloco (fried plantain) for their side dish.

A healthy lunch is an important part of the day

A healthy lunch is an important part of the day

The International School of Brussels is no different, offering a fairly traditional European four course menu every day, but also options which allow students to try things like tagines, sauerkraut and Philippine adobo.  “The culture of food is amazing at ISB which is why I got so interested in it,” says Erin Marsh.  Erin is a PE and health teacher but also trained as a nutritionist and runs food workshops for parents, as well as writing a monthly nutritional newsletter.  “As well as our International Festival where countries are represented by parents or embassies who prepare national dishes for us all to try, we have parents from different nations coming in from time to time and cooking dishes for the children– Japanese families might come and make some sushi, or there might be a Mexican theme.”

Children at ISB are encouraged to try new tastes and think about the food they’re eating.  “They do a lot of taste exploration as a part of our early childhood curriculum. The children frequently cook different food and we discuss with them things like where food is from or what it means to buy organic or fair trade. All of these concepts are brought into the school day,” says Erin.

Even packed lunches can provide a bridge between cultures, Erin explains: “If a child is new to the school we might recommend they bring a packed lunch initially so that they have familiar food with them while they settle in. Food is such an emotional part of the day that it can really help. It’s also often a talking point for the kids who are really excited to see different things in each other’s lunchboxes.”

Many schools these days are nut-free because of the problem of severe allergies, and schools are beginning to cater more for gluten intolerance and other dietary requirements.  At the International School of Milan, there are no fewer than five separate menus provided for students who may have religious, moral or health reasons for slightly restricting their diets.  There, they cater for students on coeliac diets, as well as those who don’t eat pork, meat, eggs or dairy products.

A school’s menu can be surprisingly high up on the list of priorities for parents who are looking for an international school for their child.  Gone are the days when unappealing school dinners will be endured by students, or considered adequate by a school management team.  As well as being aware that a student body marches on its stomach, international schools recognise that they have a unique opportunity to explore different food cultures, and their students are probably some of the best fed in the world!

A Japanese lunchbox is always tempting

A Japanese lunchbox is always tempting

Children are often more adventurous eaters when with their peers

Children are often more adventurous eaters when with their peers

All images: iStock

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