No chips in Norwegian Schools?
Washington DC students learn about Norsk lunches
Christine Foster Meloni
The fifth graders at Leckie Elementary School in Washington, D.C., were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Urd Milbury, the Cultural and Information Officer from the Norwegian Embassy. She had already visited the school three times, and the children knew they were going to learn something special about her home country.
Today’s general topic was Food in Norway, but Urd had brought Embassy chef Per Olav Hurv with her to talk specifically about school lunches.
Before Chef Per’s demonstration, Urd presented a slideshow to give the children an overview of food in Norway. She emphasized the importance of meat and fish to Norwegians. She began with a picture of smalahove, a traditional Christmas dish, and explained that it was a sheep’s head (hove means head and smala sheep). The head is burned, the brain removed, and the head is then salted and dried. It is boiled for about three hours and then served with mashed rutabagas. The children found the idea rather interesting if not particularly appetizing.
Urd’s next slide showed a piece of lutefisk. She explained that fishing was Norway’s second most important industry after oil, which was #1. She did not emphasize how polarizing lutefisk was, either loved or hated. She did mention in passing that it was soaked in lye, but without giving any importance to this fact.
Her third slide showed three very popular foods in Norway: kjøttkaker (meatballs), fiskeboller (fishballs), and fiskekaker (fishcakes).
She also told the children that Norwegians really like salmon and export a lot of it. The salmon exports to the United States have doubled in the past few years.
She then mentioned Norwegian sweets. First and foremost, she told them about Norwegian waffles. But when she told them that Norwegians never put syrup on their waffles, only jam, the children couldn’t believe it. What?! Waffles without syrup? No way!
She said that Norwegians love to bake and that they always eat their baked goods fresh. They love cakes and never use frosting but real cream, often berries, and sometimes chocolate. They are very fond of marzipan cakes. And at Christmas time, they are very busy in the kitchen baking cookies. Each family must prepare seven different kinds because this is an important Christmas tradition!
She then told the children about school lunches in Norway. They were surprised to learn that elementary schools in Norway do not have cafeterias. Norwegian children bring brown bag lunches from home and eat them at their desks while the teacher reads them stories.
A typical lunch is an open-faced sandwich. The children thought this was a very bizarre idea! How can it be a sandwich if it only has one piece of bread? And what goes on it?
Urd explained that the main ingredient is usually ham, salami, cheese, or a sliced hardboiled egg. Then some vegetables are added on the top such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. Often vegetables are also placed on the side, such as pieces of carrots and cauliflower. A piece of fruit is added, usually an apple.
What about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Urd surprised the children by telling them that Norwegians thought peanut butter and jelly together were really yukky! They like peanut butter and they like jelly but not together. Heaven forbid!
What about chips? Urd said that chips are not a very healthy food so they are not permitted in the school lunch. They are a snack food and children can eat them at home on Saturdays. The children obviously felt sorry for the Norwegians. One girl expressed the sentiment of all when she said, “But we can eat chips every day!”
One boy wondered how the lunches were packed if the sandwiches didn’t have a piece of bread on the top. “It would be so messy!” he exclaimed. Urd quickly informed the children that the Norwegians were prepared for that. They had special pieces of paper like parchment that they put on top of the sandwich so the ingredients stayed in place and didn’t make a mess.
Urd then introduced Chef Per, who said a few words about himself. He had decided at the age of 15 that he wanted to become a chef. He went to cooking school for two years and was an apprentice for another two years. He is now 22 and is the Chief Chef at the Embassy of Norway, a very important job. He is responsible for planning all of the menus and buying all of the food. The Ambassador has many receptions during the year and the chef must serve a total of about 4,000 guests in a typical year. If it’s a big party, he is able to hire others to help him.
Chef Per then gave a demonstration of how the open-faced sandwiches are made. He prepared many different ingredients and passed them around for the children to taste. The carrots were quite popular, the tomatoes and red peppers less so, and the cauliflower not very much at all. (In fact, many of the children rushed to the wastepaper basket to dispose of their pieces of cauliflower.) But they enjoyed the demonstration despite not being very impressed with how healthy the school food was.
Then Urd showed the children a film entitled “Superpappa og Pelé,” which they enjoyed very much. (For more information about this film, go to vimeo.com/18089917).
The Embassy visit ended on a sweet note. Urd had made hveteboller. She apologized before distributing them, however, confessing that they were not as good as usual because she was able to get them to rise only once and they were supposed to rise twice. But they were soft and fluffy and full of chocolate chips. The vote was unanimous. The children declared them delicious and some even asked for the recipe!
The Embassy established its relationship with the Leckie Elementary School through the Embassy Adoption Program, a partnership established in 1974 between the D.C. Public Schools and Washington Performing Arts. More information about this program and the Embassy’s participation in it will follow in a later issue of the Norwegian American.
In the meantime, one can access the following websites:
- Washington Performing Arts: www.washingtonperformingarts.org/education/kids/embassy/index.aspx
- The EAP’s website: dcps.dc.gov/page/embassy-adoption-program
- D.C. Public Schools: dcps.dc.gov
This article originally appeared in the May 20, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.