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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What's for Lunch? written by Andrea Curtis, with photography by Yvonne Duivenvoorden. .Red Deer Press, 2012. $12.95 ages 10 and up

"...but toasted grasshoppers are also considered a treat in the state of Oaxaca. Called chapulines (chap-oh-lean-ays), they're cooked with lemon juice, salt, and garlic or hot chilies. According to a United Nations food report, eating insects is good for your health..."

What a wonderful idea for a nonfiction book for young readers, and done in such an inventive way. I was hooked when it first arrived in my mail. And, I pored over it! It was neat to connect to previous knowledge about food from a variety of countries, but it is so much more than that.

In her introduction Andrea Curtis begins to share a picture of what lunch might be like for children of the world and assures us that we all need good food:

"Whether their school is under the vast umbrella of a banyan tree, in a dusty tent held up by poles, or in a sturdy brick structure in the heart of a bustling city, all children need a healthy lunch to be able to learn and grow. Good food nourishes both our bodies and our brains. It's one of the basic building blocks of life."

She reminds her audience that what children have for lunch tells us about their culture and their history, and that sharing a meal is one of our most pleasant social activities. Then, she leads us on a journey around the world that will allow us a peek into 'lunch boxes, bowls, trays, and mugs'.

Starting in Tokyo, Japan, she provides a short four paragraph introduction to the schools, the food prepared, and the rituals that are familiar to Japanese children. Everyone in the school partakes of the school lunch; no one is exempt. The students clean up after the meal before they head outdoors to play as there are rarely caretakers in their schools. A globe shows Japan's place in the world. That first page of information is faced with a photograph of a traditional Japanese lunch, and four explanatory passages concerning the food that is part of it.

With each turn of the page, readers will find the same format. Most school lunch programs are funded by government and provided for school age children. Canada is the exception for the countries included. For some children, it is the only food they will eat that day. The lunches are not always healthy; however, there is a move afoot to make every nation conscious of the food they are willing to fund. For each country we learn what the children eat, how the meal is prepared and served, and what part the children play in their lunch time activities.

I was intrigued by the photographs showing how each lunch is served and with the informative bits of additional information included. I loved the variety in foods eaten by children everywhere. There is so much here to encourage discussion, and to give readers a chance to see what is happening elsewhere and to provide an awareness of good eating habits and the role that children can play in making change happen. Thirteen countries are included...that in itself makes for an intriguing and very enlightening read.

The author adds a message for kids, their parents and teachers which encourages talk about fast foods, traditional diets, and the many changes that have happened in consumption with the quest for prepared foods that make meal planning effortless. She also talks about environmental impact and how kids can change the way we look at food and what we consume in an effort to make it better for those eating it and to lessen the impact of bad choices on the environment. We can play a big role, but first we must inform ourselves.

Some of the meals really appealed to me, and that's not because I am hungry. In fact, I just finished dinner before I sat down to write this post. I think the whole idea of the way the French look at lunch as a celebration of good food and equally good company is something to work toward. Only water is served with a meal that consists of salad, roast meat with vegetables, cheese and fruit. They are encouraged to savor the experience with time, heated plates and real cutlery. Ah, calm in the midst of a busy day! I would also love to try the Brazilian lunch which consists of rice and beans, grilled meat with greens and vegetables, a banana and a glass of passion fruit juice. So colorful and inviting!

  This is a great resource worth sharing in classrooms, with parents and with the school community.   

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