How does public catering work in France?
Each year in France, 7.3 billion meals are served by collective catering, public or private. Public collective catering is supported by various public institutions, depending on the public concerned: pupils of primary schools, colleges or high schools, civil servants in the public service, hospitals, retirement homes, etc.
Since the law of August 13, 2004, the regions have been in charge of school catering in high schools. This is a compulsory competence of the regions: they must guarantee access to a catering service for high school students, even if this service is not provided in the same establishment. However, they do not directly manage the catering service themselves. The establishment of canteens is the responsibility of high schools: high schools define the budget allocated to school catering, which is then approved by the region, and are responsible for the administration of the service.
Texts that govern collective catering
The operation of collective catering in schools is governed by several official texts, including the Education Code, and decrees and circulars (decree of September 30, 2011 on the nutritional quality of meals served in school catering and circular n ° 2011 -118 of June 25, 2011 relating to school catering).
The legal texts offer two possibilities for local territorial collectivities: the conceded or delegated management of collective catering, or direct management. Delegated management corresponds to the situation in which the community entrusts the preparation and service of meals to a private company according to prior specifications. In France, 40% of collective catering is delegated.
Beyond the general texts delimiting the competences of each public actor, laws regulate collective catering based on qualitative criteria and give it a mission to raise awareness about sustainable food. This is the case of the “Egalim law” (law n ° 2018-938 of October 30, 2018 for the balance of commercial relations in the agricultural and food sector and healthy, sustainable and accessible food for all) promulgated on November 1, 2018.
The law provides in particular:
- the introduction of 50% of sustainable products or under signs of origin and quality (including 20% organic products) in collective catering from January 2022
- one vegetarian meal per week
- the ban on single-use plastic utensils
- measures against food waste, for example the ban on making food surpluses which can still be consumed unfit for consumption.
Collective catering managed by the Ile-de-France Region
In the Ile-de-France Region, 27 million meals are served each year in the 463 public high schools (out of 677 high schools). This represents, according to the Region, an annual budget of 80 million euros. Collective catering in high schools in Ile-de-France is overwhelmingly managed by public administration: this concerns 90% of establishments according to the Court of Auditors.
The Ile-de-France Region has recently initiated a process in favor of more sustainable food in school canteens in its territory. This dynamic seems necessary since the political opposition noted that in 2015, only 37 high schools introduced organic products in their catering, despite the widely shared desire of parents for better quality products.
The community set three objectives for collective catering in high schools during a deliberation on February 14, 2014:
- equal access for students to half-board through the reform of meal rates
- improving the quality of meals in terms of nutrition and taste to fight obesity and develop the education of young high school students;
- fight against food waste.
Among the articles adopted and in order to implement the aforementioned objectives, are the following measures:
- support "the existing food purchasing groups between EPLE and promote their development in the Ile-de-France Region with partner EPLEs for a higher quality of meals and to promote the purchase of local and seasonal products"
- “Modify the regional aid system for the introduction of organic products into school canteens, in particular by increasing the regional aid provided per pupil at the additional cost" that this may generate
- Develop "a guide to good practices" to limit food waste in establishments and encourage them to get involved in this issue as part of the "Eco-Responsible High Schools" scheme.
Increase the share of organic and local products in school restaurants
Since 2018, the Ile-de-France Region has wanted to increase the consumption of organic products in high school canteens. It has set itself the goal of having 50% organic food on the plates and 100% local products in short circuits by 2024.
These ambitious objectives, going beyond the measures of the EGALIM law, resulted, from the start of the 2018 school year, in the introduction of organic products in one hundred pilot high schools in the region. This policy represents, according to the Region, a budget of 1.5 million euros.
In September 2019, the Region announced that the introduction of organic products would concern all establishments in the Ile-de-France Region and that establishments would have more funding to do this: an additional 21 cents per meal to encourage the purchase of regional organic products. The Region also called for schools to take advantage of this funding to develop their awareness-raising approach to sustainable food among students.
The most recent announcement in terms of sustainable food in canteens concerns the establishment, in 2020, of a central purchasing center for high schools, in particular allowing establishments to easily obtain a list of 14 products presented as " local and of high quality, some of which are organic ”.
Towards fairer pricing of meals
In 2014, the Ile-de-France Regional Council undertook to reform the prices of meals in the canteen in order to guarantee equal access for pupils to collective catering. This reform, initiated in 2014, was generalized to the entire territory at the start of the 2017 school year through the "EquiTables, for fair pricing of high school canteens" project. This system involves the establishment of a single price list throughout the Ile-de-France Region, putting an end to the disparities between establishments. These prices are adjusted according to the family quotient and the Region covers up to 86% of the price of the meal for the most modest households.
Encourage high schools towards sustainable development
The Region encourages the implementation of eco-citizen projects in Ile-de-France high schools through its “Eco-responsible high schools” system. For the current session (2020-2021 school year), students can engage in three themes: biodiversity, waste management and energy. The support includes financial assistance to help with the investment needed to carry out the projects and the provision of educational resources.
Many high schools are committed to reducing food waste in their establishment, this axis being one of the priorities of the Regional Council in terms of sustainable food. In the 88 high schools concerned, students work to fight against food waste by setting up various equipment: sorting tables, salad bars and cooling cells. The approach is completed by a valuation organic waste through composting and methanization. For example, the Region is highlighting the experience of the Louise Weiss high school in Achères in the Yvelines, which enables the recovery of biogas from its food waste.
In some high schools, reservation terminals have been installed in order to be able to better predict the quantities that will actually be consumed by the pupils.
Awareness, cooking and taste education workshops are also organized in a few establishments. This is the case of the Jacques Feyder high school in Seine-Saint-Denis, the example of which is highlighted by the Region, and where cooking workshops and "vegetable aperitifs" are organized in order to introduce them to students.
Ile-de-France Region website:
Regulations and laws:
- Délibération du Conseil Régional DÉLIBÉRATION N° CR 2017-67, 10 mars 2017 https://www.iledefrance.fr/sites/default/files/medias/rapports/RAPCR2017-67DEL.pdf
- Délibération du Conseil Régional N° CR 23-14, 14 février 2014, https://cr.iledefrance.fr/cindocwebjsp/temporaryfiles/tY7xEtb/RAPCR23-14DEL.pdf
- Conseil National de la Restauration Collective, Les mesures de la loi Egalim concernant la restauration collective, janvier 2020 https://agriculture.gouv.fr/les-mesures-de-la-loi-egalim-concernant-la-restauration-collective
- Rapport de la Cour des Comptes sur la restauration collective en IDF https://www.ccomptes.fr/system/files/2018-09/IDR2018-31.pdf
Written by Perrine Judenne, LFC volunteer - May 2020.
Last modification : 22 Jul 2020.
Since 2018, the Ile-de-France Region has wanted to increase the consumption of organic products in high school canteens. The Region set the goal of having 50% organic food on the plates and 100% local products in short circuits by 2024.