When children go to school, you can take your kids back home for lunch or they can stay at school.
Even if you live in a tiny village, there's always a « cantine », a place to eat in the school or close to the school.
You don't have to bring food, it's all included in the fees.
Children go to « cantine » at « école maternelle » and « école primaire ». At « collège » and « lycée » it is often called « self » because most of the time it's a « self-service » school restaurant.
When children go to « cantine » or « self », they cannot go outside their school, they have to stay in. But if your kids go to « lycée », it means they are between 15 and 18, then they are free to go outside after or before lunch.
When children take their lunch at school, they are « demi-pensionnaire », they use « demi-pension ».
If they do not eat at school (and probably come back home) they are « externe ».
Sometimes you'll see also « interne ». An « interne » is a pupil staying at school during the week (goes back home only for the weekends). A school in which you can sleep is called « internat » (boarding school).
If you want your children to eat at school, you'll have to provide your « quotient familial » to register them. You've been given a « quotient familial » by your CAF. If you've lost it, you can ask for a new one. Just go to your CAF with your « numéro d'allocataire » and they'll give it to you. If you have not « quotient familial » contact your CAF, it will be useful to have one. For more details about CAF, check the CAF article, you'll find more indications.
In France, parents pay different fees depending on their « quotient familial » : the more you earn money, the more expensive « cantine » will be. And the less you earn, the cheapest it will be.
Regarding « demi-pension » different systems exist :
- Par trimestre : in France, school year is divided into 3 terms we call « trimestre ». Most of the time, you'll have to pay « cantine » for each trimestre (sometimes for the complete year but it's becoming rare and is mainly for « école primaire » and « école maternelle »). When you pay for a complete « trimestre », your children have to go to the « cantine ». If they do not, you will have to give a reason to the administration and you will not be reimbursed.
- Par ticket / à l'unité : in some cases, you can choose to buy tickets. This is the most flexible system because you can use them only when you need, even if your children go to the « cantine » only 1 or 2 days a week.
What is a « régime » ?
If you are asked by the school to specify which « régime » you choose, it only means they want to know if you intend to register your children to « cantine » or not.
A « régime » is a classification : « demi-pension », « externe », « interne ».