What do Israeli children pack for lunch?

Here in Israel, the school year began a week ago. Schools here are on a healthy kick, with new government regulations banning sugary, fatty foods from the country’s schools and preschools. Yet packed lunches aren’t fully under government control – while the school makes recommendations, parents still make the final decision in terms of what to send.

In my son’s new preschool class, the children empty out the contents of their lunch boxes onto plates, and eat in little assigned groups. One day this week, my son’s teacher photographed every child’s lunch and sent the photos to the parents. (Yes, it is indeed a class of 35 children.)

Aside from the cheerfully colored plates, I found the relative uniformity to be striking. True, the school asks that parents send children with a sandwich, a vegetable and a fruit every day, but parents have been known make their own decisions, whether due to a child’s tastes or a parent’s limitations.

And yet, in this class every child had a little sandwich. The most common filling seems to be white cheese, although a few children also have egg, deli meat or tuna. True, there’s a lot of white bread, some of it conspicuously missing the crust. Most children also had chopped raw vegetables, generally cucumber, but sometimes peppers or cherry tomatoes. A few had an omelet or a hard-boiled egg alongside. And a few lucky kids had something unusual, such as corn on the cob, pancakes or even strawberries (which have been out of season for months now). The packed lunches are eaten around 10 a.m., with a hot meal served at 2 p.m. for children who stay through the afternoon.

Visibly absent are prepackaged foods and sweets. Plenty of parents complain about the junk their children are given at school, but I think these meals are pretty representational of what children take for lunch in Israel. Any junk food would come alongside the sandwich, fruit and vegetable, not in place of it.

Other observations: Nothing is overly fancy. No animal-shaped sandwiches or vegetables cut into flowers. It doesn’t seem like there’s any one-upmanship going on. Which is nice.

The children are also sent with a water bottle every day, and encouraged to drink throughout the day.

As for my son, he gets a brown pita with peanut butter or hummus, sliced cucumber or carrot, and a sliced apple (that’s his on an orange plate, with his bright turquoise lunchbox lid in the corner of the photo). If he doesn’t eat it at school, he’ll usually finish it at home afterward. Although one day he claimed a robot took his sandwich. The teacher counters that he ate it.

School lunches around the world are a popular subject online. In the general scheme of things, I think we’re doing pretty well.

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