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Associated Press photos
A premium lunch of fish and vegetables, left, is served to students in Paris, while American students are seeing whole grains, fruits and vegetables replace fried foods on their trays.

How do lunches size up?

Food students in US, other countries eat varies wildly

Sri, a housemaid, shows a lunch box she prepared for her employer’s child in Jakarta, Indonesia. The lunch consists of rice, meatball soup, tofu and vegetables.

– First lady Michelle Obama is on a mission to make American school lunches more healthful by replacing greasy pizza and french fries with whole grains, low-fat protein, fresh fruit and vegetables.

The Associated Press helps you compare her efforts in the United States with what kids are eating around the globe by sending photographers to see what kids in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America ate for lunch this week.

The new American standards are giving kids in the United States a taste of the good life already experienced by schoolchildren around the world. Most countries put a premium on feeding schoolchildren a healthful meal at lunchtime.

Many kids go home to eat lunch with their families or bring a lunch cooked by their parents.

Although few schools sell lunch, snacks are available around the world, and they're often as unhealthful as treats in the United States: fried doughnuts in Mali and Pakistan, candy in the West Bank, fried chicken nuggets in France.

American children are more likely to eat a lunch made in a school cafeteria, although other countries are adopting this practice as more mothers work outside the home.

In France, lunch is an art form: hot, multicourse and involving vegetables. While their mothers were at work Tuesday, children in Lambersart in northern France were served ratatouille, salmon, rice, a chunk of baguette and an orange.

Healthful lunches are offered in public school cafeterias in the United Arab Emirates, but the children of foreigners attending private schools get fancier, multicultural offerings such as American barbecue, Indian curries and Asian noodles.

Fresh food is also on the menu at the DEL-Care Edu Center in downtown Singapore, where students are fed breakfast, lunch and even dinner for kids of parents who work late. Typical lunches include spaghetti marinara, fish slices, chicken casserole or lotus root soup.

Kids usually bring a home-cooked meal to school in Pakistan, where school leaders check lunch boxes for junk food and admonish parents to keep things healthful. A typical sack lunch at The Bahria Foundation school in Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital, Islamabad, includes eggs, chicken nuggets, bread, rice or noodles. Some also include leftovers such as minced mutton and vegetables cooked the night before.

In Federal Way, Washington, schools have embraced the first lady's lunch campaign.

At Mirror Lake Elementary, about 20 miles south of Seattle, students ate grilled cheese sandwiches, corn salad, fresh carrots, applesauce and low-fat milk on Monday. The bread was whole grain, the cheese low-fat and low-sodium, the carrots fresh and fruit the only dessert.

Fried food, white bread, sugar-laden desserts and overcooked vegetables have all but disappeared from the American school menu.

Anything kids can pick up with their fingers is popular in the younger grades. High school students enjoy spicy and exotic choices, especially Asian flavors, says Federal Way chef and dietitian Adam Pazder.