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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018

GIY: 'School lunches shouldn't be about wolfing down a sandwich in ten minutes'

In France, children spend a full hour where they learn how to eat in a civilised, relaxed manner and enjoy healthy food, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

THERE’S A GREAT scene from Michael Moore’s 2015 documentary Where to Invade Next that focuses on school dinners. He visits a small rural town in France and goes to the ‘best place to eat in town’ – the local school’s cafeteria.

In France, they consider school lunch to be part of the teaching day. The children spend a full hour where they learn how to eat in a civilised, relaxed manner and enjoy healthy food. In the film, the children dine on scallops to start, chicken or lamb skewers on cous cous for mains, a dessert and even a cheese course (bien sûr).

With such a grounding in social eating, it’s little wonder that the French have such a healthy attitude to and knowledge about food.

Could we achieve something similar?

Earlier this year, the Chairperson at Tramore Educate Together came across Moore’s documentary. Corinne is French, so it resonated with her, particularly since she now lives in a culture where school lunches are about wolfing down a sandwich in ten minutes before running out to play. She sent it on to my wife, who is principal at the school, and it got us all thinking. Could we hatch a plan to achieve something similar?

The result was a social eating programme called Eat Together, which we’ve now delivered at four schools in Waterford. Since very few primary schools in Ireland have canteen facilities, we had the idea to send the lunches from GIY’s restaurant (GROW HQ) instead.

shutterstock_686696497 Source: Africa Studio via Shutterstock

Once a week for a 6 or 8 week period, we deliver to the school a delicious, 2-course hot lunch from a menu plan prepared by our Head Chef JB Dubois. The school agree to schedule it in as a lesson (before the lunch break), and we provide the teacher with a lesson plan to weave it into the curriculum.

The children eat together at long tables to encourage them to talk to each other and, as in the French school, they eat from proper plates/bowls and use real cutlery. We talk about the food they are eating, where it has come from, and how it was produced or grown. They talk about texture and flavour, what veg they can identify in the meal, what they like and what they don’t.

We’ve seen even the pickiest eaters become more willing to try things

The menu changes every week, but it’s always proper hearty, in-season food. We could have a little veg quiche or tartlet to start, followed by shepherd’s pie or chicken casserole for mains. If dessert is on the menu we generally sneak some veg in there too. A beetroot brownie, or carrot cake.

The children bring the menus home so they can cook it at home with their families if they so wish. Feedback from children, parents and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive – over 90% of parents would like the programme to continue and are willing to pay for it themselves. They tell us it helps to make their children more interested, curious and knowledgeable about food.

We’ve seen even the pickiest eaters become more willing to try things, when they are surrounded by their peers who are getting stuck in. Above all though, it’s a chance for children to view food as a sociable, enjoyable occasion – rather than a quick re-fueling.

This term, three local schools – Tramore Educate Together, Scoil Lorcáin and Gaelscoil Phort Láirge – are taking part. In a week where a Safefood Ireland study found that the total lifetime cost of childhood obesity in Ireland is estimated at €7.2 billion (that’s not a typo), it’s clear that radical thinking on food education is needed.

A programme like Eat Together could be part of the solution, and it’s worth noting that the government is already funding lunch deliveries to DEIS schools. In the meantime, we’re actively looking for partners to help us roll Eat Together out further around the country – other schools, parent’s associations, restaurants, cafes, cookery schools, sponsors and so on. Get in touch if you want to get involved.

The Basics – Tunnel Ventilation

As the cold weather and lower light conditions draw in, it’s important to close up the doors of your greenhouse or polytunnel to keep the heat in there as much as possible.

However, try and give the polytunnel/greenhouse a good airing on fine dry days – open up the doors and let air circulate – this will help to stop disease developing, particularly downy mildew which can be a big issue in the winter months. On days where you do open up the doors make sure to close them again at night to retain whatever heat is in there.

Recipe of the Week – Traditional Shepherd’s Pie

shutterstock_754264099 Source: Istetiana via Shutterstock

Last week, the Eat Together schools dined on JB’s Traditional Shepherd’s Pie. In the olden days, meat pies were done with left over stew and not with mince. The reheated stew was then topped with pastry or with mash potato (more traditional in Ireland). The diced lamb gives this a fantastic texture, and it’s full of in-season vegetables – garlic, carrots, parsnips and onions.


  • 500g diced lamb
  • 4 large tomatoes or 1 small tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 large onion
  • chopped rosemary leaves
  • 200 ml good homemade chicken stock (made from the left-over bones of a roast chicken)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 700g nice buttery mash potato to cover the top


Fry off the diced lamb with a little cooking oil in a wide stock pot for 5 to 6 minutes until golden brown. Peel and slice the vegetables. Add the vegetables to the meat and fry off for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the chopped garlic, rosemary and salt. Add the chopped tomatoes and the chicken stock and simmer on low heat for 2 to 3 hours until the meat start to become flaky. Pour the lamb stew into a pie dish, cover with mash potato and bake at 150 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.


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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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