The first wave of influenza has hit Beijing schools, and parents’ thoughts are naturally turning to prevention and nutrition. Nutritious school meals are a key component of children’s health. If you have ever wondered what kids are eating at the city’s various campuses, here is your chance to find out. In this issue, our editors visited four schools ranging from kindergartens to high schools, and took an in-depth look at what kids are eating every day. (A version of this article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of our Chinese-language sister magazine, jingkids.)
Beijing City International School
Overview of the Lunch Program
The Educational Dining Program at BCIS is run by Aramark, and with over 50 different nationalities represented at the school, Centre of Excellence Director Geoff Kennedy’s first priority is to ensure the food on offer is equally as diverse.
“We have a team of chefs [around the world]who teach our chefs how to cook authentic cuisine,” he says. In addition to making tasty food, Aramark pays close attention to nutritional value. “Everything we do is underscored by our health and well-being campaign,” continues Kennedy. “We try to process and work with our fruits and vegetables as little as possible because they lose so much of their nutritional value when you chop, slice and dice. It’s all about keeping food simple and delicious.”
Kennedy is pragmatic about treats and emphasizes moderation rather than prohibition. Aramark’s snack bars offer pastries alongside healthier items like fresh fruit salads and yogurt pots. That being said, “less nutritious items are always less visible.”
Food safety is critical. “From the selection of our vendors and suppliers to the food production, we have very stringent food safety policies and procedures,” says Kennedy.
“I had the Chinese lunch today. I had chicken, vegetables, rice, spring rolls, and a salad. I enjoyed the chicken most, it was really lean and healthy, but it was still moist and I really enjoyed the sauce. Overall, I find the food here good. I like coming downstairs and seeing so many options. I think it looks appetizing and I definitely eat with my eyes first. I also love that they highlight different cultures and different foods with special events. [Recently], we had Mexican food; it’s nice to have a change.”
– Kendal Reilly (Australian)
“Today I got a toasted wrap with bell peppers and chicken. Usually I get a sandwich. I don’t like the hot dishes; they’re sometimes too watery or too salty. I like this sandwich because it’s simple, fresh and healthy. I think the food is better now than it was.”
-Yasmine Rayyis (Grade 8, Georgian/American)
“I think the food is all right. Some days are better than others, but most of the time it’s OK. This pasta is all right; it has bacon and ham and stuff. There’s too much food for me. For snack break, I normally have a muffin or chicken; they took a lot of the unhealthy snacks away.”
– Ellen Oscar (Grade 8, American)
“We had another company before that was good in the beginning, but the last year with them (2012) was horrible. They were unable to accommodate the growth of the school, and they wouldn’t change anything if we complained.
I was a parent rep on the food committee which [looked for]a new company last year. We tried food from six different companies. Aramark was the best. Their prices and food quality were good, and they were very eager to please. At no extra cost, they renovated [the facilities, making eveything]more child-friendly and better-looking. The kids now have a choice between a salad bar, seafood, or even something for vegetarians, Muslims or Hindus.
It’s difficult to please everybody. What I like most is that if someone complains they have a meeting and change it the next day.”
– Khatuna Rayyis (Georgian, has one child attending BCIS)
“Before we came to Beijing, we lived in California and my daughter really didn’t like the cafeteria food. Lunch was always a struggle. If I didn’t pack a lunch, she’d go through the day without eating. Here, for the first time, she’s coming to me and saying: ‘Mom, my lunch card’s out of money’. She says the food is very good and I couldn’t be happier. She also loves the cafe; the kids can grab healthy sandwiches or salad there. I think high school kids see the cafe as a place where they can be grown up and have that coffee shop experience.”
– Patty Ryan (American, has one child attending BCIS)
“BCIS operates a pre-paid card system. The set menu costs RMB 19 from K-1 and RMB 26 from Grades 2-12. The set lunch includes soup, choice of three main courses, two vegetables, two starch dishes, unlimited salad and fruit, and a drink.
For lunch, I had salad, spring rolls, vegetable stir-fry, pizza, pancake with fruit, roast potatoes, and rice. My favorite dish was the stir-fry. The vegetables were well-seasoned and had bite, crunch and flavor.”
– Aisling O’Brien (beijingkids school editor)
Overview of the Lunch Program
The Daystar school lunch program was conceived in 2010 by Director of Marketing and Admissions Kristin Lack and organic lifestyle practitioner and advocate, Yinghui Zhang. They set out to create a program that would support local producers, use organic ingredients and offer safe, healthy and delicious food to their students. The program takes advantage of produce from local farms using natural farming practices that Zhang personally visited and vetted.
“Not all farmers had an organic certification, so I had to examine their farming methods in detail over a long period,” she says. Zhang has since left China, placing the organic lunch program in the hands of former TimeOut Beijing Dining Editor Lillian Chou. Chou is a foodie by birthright. The daughter of a chef, she has been involved in the culinary industry since the tender age of 14, working in top-notch restaurants and hotels for over 20 years. Chou is continuing Zhang’s mission to source ingredients from local farmers and use organic products. Currently, only about 6-8 percent of the school’s ingredients come from conventional sources.
The seasonal menu at Daystar encompasses a variety of ethnic cuisines. Daystar also provides a wide selection of healthy snacks such as fruits, homemade granola and Greenyard yogurt. Lunch costs RMB 25 per day at the kindergarten and RMB 30 per day for Grades 1 to 6.
“I’ve been here since second grade. For lunch at school, I like lasagna, a sandwich, or rice best.”
– Anna Ding (Grade 5, Chinese)
“I’ve been here since Grade 1. I’m happy with the school lunch. Some of my schoolmates aren’t into organic food, but I am. I like vegetables the most, because too much meat is unhealthy. The best part is that we eat like a family here.”
– William (Grade 5, British/Chinese)
“Red bean baozi, spinach, and pizza are my favorite. I don’t like the taste of eggplant; I think it’s weird. Otherwise, I also like Japanese, Indian, Chinese, and Italian food.”
– Devon (Grade 2, American)
“I eat lunch with the kids every day. Daystar has a lot to offer, from Mexican to Japanese and Korean. In the past, the dishes were sometimes a little cold, but now it’s much improved.”
– Chad Bryant (American)
“I love the soup, sandwiches, vegetable salads, and fruit. I like my food a little saltier; Daystar tends to prepare it a bit mild for my taste.”
– Xuesong Zhao (Chinese)
“The organic lunch program was set up to ensure that kids would eat safe and healthy food. Parents have endorsed the changes, but some kids resisted a little while they had to try new things. We encourage our staff and parents to help us with educating our children about the importance of healthy and organic food.”
– Kristin Lack (has three children at Daystar)
“I used to be head of the PTA, so I understand what goes on behind the scenes. It’s because of this that I really trust in the safety of the food. During the first year, when Daystar changed to an organic lunch, a lot of children struggled to adapt. Less oil and less salt than they were used to made the food less tasty to them. However, Lillian [Chou] tried out many methods to maximize the flavor. Since then, the children have begun to eat just like before.”
– Jennifer (has one child at Daystar)
“I had the menu of the day: braised Chinese cabbage with vinegar, chicken soup, Korean vegetables with vermicelli, beef, broccoli, beans, celery, rice, and apples. In general, the dishes were appetizing, even without much oil or salt. The ingredients were fresh and colorful, and the flavors were well-combined. I ate a lot! The most impressive part was the “family” system set in place. When a child joins the school, they are assigned a unique “family” of eight to ten students that sits and eats every meal together from Grades 1 to 6. It’s so sweet!”
– Grace Gui (deputy managing editor of jingkids)
Canadian International School of Beijing
Overview of the Lunch Program
The Canadian International School of Beijing outsources its food preparation to Sodexo. The company’s Unit Manager at CISB, Lily Wei, has been at the school for seven years. “We try to provide the kids with healthy, nutritious and appealing food. We use less oil, less salt and we never use MSG,” Wei says.
Lunch includes Chinese and Western set menus. Middle and high school students also have an Italian set menu and daily special set menu. Like lunch options, snacks on offer vary every day. “Sometimes it’s dim sum, sometimes it’s cookies, juice or yogurt, and we serve fresh fruit every day,” says Wei. Sodexo also runs periodic food festivals featuring different international cuisines.
In cooperation with teachers, Sodexo educates kids on the importance of eating a balanced diet and not wasting food through a program called Sodexo Star. Children who set a good example by eating healthily and responsibly have their photo displayed in the dining room.
The school employs a pre-paid card system. Every day, kindergarten students pay RMB 25 for a meal package which includes lunch and two snacks. Elementary, middle and high school students pay RMB 27.
“I like the lunch here and normally choose the Asian set menu, mostly because I’m a big fan of rice.”
– Cory Dickson (Canadian)
“I love their sandwiches!”
– Julie MacKay (Canadian)
“I like everything here, especially Chinese cuisine! But ayi always gives me a lot of rice. I can’t finish all of it.”
– Laszlo Czinege (16, Bulgarian)
“I love all of it and I can eat a lot. I love rice and pizza! Oh, and I love sushi best!”
– Fabio Stefana (12, Italian)
“I’m very curious about what the kids eat at school for lunch. My daughter eats a lot. I don’t make a lot of food at home; on vacation, they sometimes tell me they miss the food at school!”
– Mou Ruihan (has two children at CISB)
“My kids have been at CISB for two years. They love the meals here, especially Fabio. When he gets home, he still wants to eat the school’s sushi. Poor Filippo is very thin because he doesn’t eat as much as his big brother, but he likes rice and pasta – pizza best of all.”
– Daniela Uberti (has two children at CISB)
“We interviewed the junior grade students first; their udon noodles with drumsticks looked really tasty. Later, we ate with the senior grade students; their set menu of the day was pasta or rice. I chose pasta but most of the kids chose rice. The pasta was really good; it was served with mushrooms, onions, and ham in a rich tomato sauce. The dish was a little oily but the portion was big enough to satisfy the hungriest of 18-year-olds. I managed to finish all of it. The fruit of the day was watermelon, and Fabio scoffed a whole plate! Sodexo also provided pastries, which were beautifully textured and perfectly sweetened.”
– Grace Gui (deputy managing editor of jingkids)
Photos by Mitchell Pe Masilun, ELF Kids Photography
This article originally appeared on p42-47 of the beijingkids November 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com