It’s no secret that the French have a way with food. But did you know that school lunches served to French kids in their school cafeterias make parents jealous all over the world? What exactly makes their lunch menus so enviable? We looked into the basics of lunchtime in France and decided to go figure out the specificities of French school menus so that we can easily apply them to our lunch packing routine!

1. Start with the Main Course.
French kids who eat at school get a menu as if they were in a restaurant: the menu usually includes an appetizer, a main course, “cheese,” and dessert. The main course is the most important part of the meal, with vegetables, proteins (meat, fish, eggs, beans, or lentils), and cereals. Our first advice when thinking about your next menu is to start with the selection of the proteins you want to include: fish? meat? vegetable proteins? Then, what cereals would pair well with these proteins? Rice, couscous, pasta, or potatoes?

Note that if you don’t want any cereal in your main course, you can always add some bread to your menu, as you can see in a lot of French school menus available on Teuko.com.

Last but not least, what vegetable(s) would match your previous choices? This looks like a difficult question only a chef would be able to answer but look into kid-friendly foods like zucchini, grated carrots, bell peppers, and green beans.

2. Add a Side.
An appetizer is most and foremost what restaurants in the USA call “sides” so just add extra raw veggies or fruits to complete your food groups, and you’re all set! During winter, kids can be served a soup as an appetizer: leek soup, carrot soup, pumpkin soup, mushroom soup are all good, non-offensive options.

3. Don’t Forget the Cheese.
If you want to pack lunch the French way then don’t forget the cheese! And if your kids are not into cheese? You can always switch to yogurt to make sure to pack all the calcium they need to grow strong. Pick fruity yogurt, or just plain yogurt, and add yourself some fresh fruits.

4. Dessert Is a Must.
Now for the last part of a French meal: the dessert! What’s interesting when looking at all the school menus demystified in Teuko.com, you’ll see that the desserts served to French kids are mostly made up of fruits in season! From time to time, they do get sweet treats like cakes, pies, cookies. You can always keep it simple by adding one chocolate chip cookie or a mini donut and or “beignets”—a donut filled with applesauce, jam, vanilla cream, or chocolate cream.

5. What about the Drink?
Water is the only drink served to the French schoolchildren nowadays but that was not always the case. In fact, it was only in 1956 that the French government mandated that no wine would be served to the kids under the age of 14 years old! And it was only in 1981 that the law was extended up to the kids in high school.

If plain water doesn’t cut it with your kid, try sparkling water, or just add some slices of lemon in tap water… and voilà! Your lunchbox is finally complete… the French way.