Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. Here's the latest! —The Mgmt.
Kids Eat Outside
We don't have set lunches or cafeteria's over here. We have canteens, which mean that kids buy what they want off the menus each day. Canteens aren't cheap either, at my high school, a meat pie was AUD$3.80 and hot food (like pasta, stir-fry and rice, casseroles, etc.) were AUD$6 for a small container. I used to take AUD$15 a day, and that just covered a meal and a drink at main lunch and a fruit salad in the recess break.
You can also do "lunch orders" (normally only in primary school), where you or your parents write exactly what you want on a brown paper bag and it's then delivered back to your classroom just before lunch. My favorite was an egg-and-lettuce sandwich, and orange juice pop, and a licorice strap.
Kids in Australia also eat outside. The lunch bell rings, you grab your lunch, and head out to meet up with your friends. There are normally no lunch halls or places to go and eat, we just spread out over the school grounds.
My high school canteen had a roating menu, which covered things like quiches, pies, sausage rolls, pasta bakes, stir fry, casseroles, hot roast rolls, chicken wraps, nachos, and more. Plus a variety of fresh and toasted sandwiches and rolls every day, fruit salad, whole fruits, cakes and muffins, ice creams and drinks.
Fresh Food Made Well
I'm not entirely sure there is such a thing as a "typical school lunch" in Australia. Generally speaking we don't have cafeterias, we have canteens. The schools determine what our kids eat only so far as they decide who will run the canteen, and then the canteen decides what it will serve.
At my high school, and indeed my primary school, our canteen served a variety of foods, from hot food to sandwiches to snacks and lollies, that we were free to pick from as we pleased. In high school there was a special each day, for $5, which ranged from nachos to stir-fry, all made on the premises. Every day there were sandwiches and rolls, different varieties including ham and salad, chicken and salad, egg and lettuce, and just plain salad, all of which were made fresh before recess and lunch each day.
All the smart people knew you wanted a study line either right after recess or lunch, when the sandwiches and rolls went on special, meaning you could pick up a fresh salad roll for a dollar. Of course pies and sausage rolls were available, as well as ice creams and lollies, but for the most part these were ignored in favor of the food, which the canteen actually made, and made well.
Our school did sell soft drinks, as do most high schools here, as well as juices, and milks, and very cheap water. We also had water fountains, or "bubblers," absolutely everywhere on our campus. My friends and I once got bored in a study line and decided to count the bubblers. We got up to 56 before we had to go to our next class. From what I've seen of the other schools around, as part of my bachelor of education, many schools have similar things going on, although primary schools tend to have a much narrower range on offer, almost all of which is very healthy and cheap.
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