Arama They Didn't

8:29 pm - 02/10/2013

On Japan’s school lunch menu: A healthy meal, made from scratch


In Japan, school lunch means a regular meal, not one that harms your health. The food is grown locally and almost never frozen. There’s no mystery in front of the meat. From time to time, parents even call up with an unusual question: Can they get the recipes?

“Parents hear their kids talking about what they had for lunch,” said Tatsuji Shino, the principal at Umejima Elementary School in Tokyo, “and kids ask them to re-create the meals at home.”

Japan takes seriously both its food and its health and, as a result, its school lunches are a point of national pride — not a source of dismay. As other countries, including the United States, struggle to design school meals that are healthy, tasty and affordable, Japan has all but solved the puzzle, using a system that officials here describe as utterly common sense.

In the United States, where obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades,new legislation hampioned by Michelle Obama has pushed schools to debut menus with controversial calorie restrictions. But even the healthiest choices are generally provided by large agri-food companies, cooked off site, frozen and then reheated, and forced to compete in cafeterias with all things fried, salty and sweet.

Schools in Japan, by contrast, give children the sort of food they’d get at home, not at a stadium. The meals are often made from scratch. They’re balanced but hearty, heavy on rice and vegetables, fish and soups. The meals haven’t changed much in four decades.

Mealtime is a scene of communal duty: In both elementary and middle schools, students don white coats and caps and serve their classmates. Children eat in their classrooms. They get identical meals, and if they leave food untouched, they are out of luck: Their schools have no vending machines. Barring dietary restrictions, children in most districts can’t bring food to school, either, until they reach high school.

Japan’s system has an envious payoff — its kids are relatively healthy. According to government data, Japan’s child obesity rate, always among the world’s lowest, has declined for each of the past six years, a period during which the country has expanded its dietary education program.

Japan does struggle with childhood and adolescent eating disorders, and government data show a rise in the number of extremely skinny children. But there is virtually no malnutrition resulting from poverty. Japan’s children will live on average to 83, longer than those in any other country, according to the World Health Organization.

When it comes to food, Japan has some deeply ingrained advantages. Children are taught to eat what they are served, meaning they are prone to accept, rather than revolt against, the food on their plates. But Japan also invests heavily in cultivating this mind-set. Most schools employ nutritionists who, among other tasks, work with children who are picky or unhealthy eaters.

Though Japan’s central government sets basic nutritional guidelines, regulation is surprisingly minimal. Not every meal has to meet precise caloric guidelines. At many schools, a nutritionist draws up the recipes — no bureaucratic interference. Central government officials say they have ultimate authority to step in if schools are serving unhealthy food, but they can’t think of any examples where that actually happened.

Funding for lunches is handled locally, too: Municipalities pay for labor costs, but parents — billed monthly — pay for the ingredients, about $3 per meal, with reduced and free options for poorer families.

Notable is what’s lacking: You don’t see low-fat options. You don’t see dessert, other than fruit and yogurt. You occasionally see fried food, but in stark moderation. On a recent day at Umejima, kids were served the Japanese version of fried chicken, known as karaage. Each child was allowed one nugget.

Restaurant-worthy meals

Officials at Adachi Ward, in northern Tokyo, say they run a “fairly standard” school lunch program in the ward’s 71 elementary schools and 37 middle schools. And because this is food-obsessed Japan, those standard meals are restaurant-worthy; in fact, the ward publishes a full-color cookbook based on its best school meals.

District officials allow themselves to brag for just one reason, their success in cutting food waste to 5 percent. This follows the “Oishii Kyushoku,” or “Delicious School Lunch,” program they created five years ago to get kids more interested in what they were eating.

At Umejima, one of Adachi Ward’s schools, the hallway walls look like the pages of Bon Appetit magazine. Hand drawings of healthy lunches dreamed up by students hang near the principal’s office. There are charts of beans and spices. Then there’s the real food, which is chopped, diced and simmered every morning, beginning at 8 a.m., by a staff of 12. Shortly after noon, they’ll have meals for 760 students.


I know this article might be a bit old but it's still a good read.

I posted this on FB and a lot of my friends who work in Japanese schools agreed with the post; school lunches are amazingly good. I must also agree as my schools' lunches are aaaaamazing. They make everyone's least favorite foods seem so delicious. I eat too much school lunch sometimes because they are so good.

Because most of my FB friends are Americans, they also argue that America can do this too. But, can America really do this? Having a home cooked meal in the school sounds nice but it's a lot of work. And since a vast number of America's elementary and junior high schools are crowded with a population of 900-1200 students for each school (in big towns, cities, and whatnots' schools), it seems impossible? I had home-cooked meals in North Dakota because my school's population was only 200 students. But I didn't have that kind of lunch when I moved to the Washington DC metro area. It can be done in small schools but not in the bigger ones.

For those who live outside America, did (or does) your schools offer home-cooked meals?
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criyu 10th-Feb-2013 11:51 am (UTC)
"too many people so you can't do it" is not a good reason. We know that in America at a young age, especially for food at school, you become obese and have other problems. for junk food are wasted money and time, why not use that money and time to do something really good and healthy?
is a change and make the changes is necessary to move your ass and start. people need to just find the will to do so and work hard
risuw_chan 10th-Feb-2013 12:03 pm (UTC)
had to agree that they're seriously tasty, just an ordinary home cook but you can't forget the taste even after become an adult,

In Nama Arashi (arashi's old tv show) they had a corner to bring back what the guest ate when they're in elementary school by asking for the recipe to their school, they're all drool worthy
katzsong 10th-Feb-2013 04:00 pm (UTC) you know where I can watch/get Nama Arashi? I don't care if it's subbed or raw. I just want to see it :)
Yoroshiku onegaishimasu... m(_ _)m
tsukino_aki 10th-Feb-2013 12:13 pm (UTC)
Had home-cooked meals in both elementary and junior high school, they were really good (especially at my elementary school). I grew up healthily thanks for those.
a_mbry0 10th-Feb-2013 12:14 pm (UTC)
In Finland you get free home-cooked meals from elementary school to high school. In college and university you have to pay for your lunch but it won't cost much and that as well is home-cooked :)
akutati 11th-Feb-2013 02:34 pm (UTC)
Not all of it is really home cooked. For example, in my birth town when I was in high school they started saving money by making all the food in one big kitchen, then cooling it down and sending it to the schools where it was heated up again. Compared to what I ate in elementary school (under 100 pupils and home-cooked from scratch) it tasted awful.

Also, I'm now in university, and here some of the food is home-cooked, some is not. As there usually are at least three different meals to choose from, one can avoid the ready-made stuff almost every time. Ready-made include, for example, all meatballs, meatloaves, nuggets, fishballs... And the difference can really be tasted!

Also, there has lately been conversations on whether the Finnish school lunches are as nutritious today as they used to be, say, 20 years ago. It's all about saving on expences now.
crsg 10th-Feb-2013 12:18 pm (UTC)
It's true, kyushoku is really tasty! Occasionally there are foods I don't like but for the most part, I really enjoy the lunches. I think it's important the kids are eating balanced meals too - they're all so busy and active with after-school activities, they need all the energy they can get.
exdream1999 10th-Feb-2013 12:27 pm (UTC)
I miss kyuushoku so much. ;_;

Although, somedays I'd be stuffed from carb. overkill and would barely have anything from dinner. But it was worth it.

The school nurses's daughter was jealous, because her district's lunches were nowhere near as good.
exdream1999 10th-Feb-2013 12:25 pm (UTC)
School lunches in Japan really depend on where you live though.

While I will say most of the them are fairly healthy, especially in elementary and junior high, you get some districts that pretty much serve curry and pasta for most of the year. Or, when you get into high school, you don't really have school lunches anymore, and instead have a cafeteria that just does ramen and what not.

I lucked out when I was teaching at a city in Saitama, their school lunches were AMAZING, we never had a repeat meal during the whole month, and would even get treats every now and then. That line about no desserts is BULLSHIT, I had fucking crepes with lunch at least three times in one school year.

Though now, my high school doesn't even have a cafeteria, we just got a little shop THIS YEAR, so I bring my own lunch or buy something at 7-11 on those rare days I don't bring my own.

In the U.S.: My school district was the last school district in Washington state to enroll in the national hot lunch program. I think that says all that needs to be said. That and cookie day on Thursday at the high school.

Edited at 2013-02-10 12:29 pm (UTC)
pyroyale 10th-Feb-2013 12:34 pm (UTC)
I teach in high schools so unfortunately I don't get school lunch most of the time, but when I'm at my special needs schools or substitute at an elementary and get school lunch (only once or twice a month) it's always a good day! The food is delicious, although the sizes can be a little too much sometimes.

At my primary school in England we had proper home made school lunch. The secondary school served them too, but also served burgers, pizza and chips so of course all of the school kids chose those unhealthy options instead of the good food. We also had the option of bringing a packed lunch. We shouldn't have been given those choices, really.
fumine 10th-Feb-2013 12:40 pm (UTC)
My elementary school offered school lunches but the general attitude wasn't so much about how healthy it should be or how much you should be allowed to eat. Technically you could have as much as you like (though they stopped me from eating once LOL) and there were lots of days where we only had very sweet dishes. The quality of the food was so-so. A few dishes were known to be very delicious, and others were....not so good. Many kids (me included) got salmonella poisoning once, they had to close the kitchen for a week. ^^'

My high school had a small canteen but they offered mostly unhealthy sandwiches, pizza-bread and sweets. For warm lunches you had the option of visiting a nearby office building - they had a cafeteria. Not particularly high-class either but they offered 2-3 different meals every day. *shrugs*
aisasami 10th-Feb-2013 12:50 pm (UTC)
That line about no desserts is BULLSHIT, I had fucking crepes with lunch at least three times in one school year.

IA! I just had yukimi daifuku, frozen pudding, and curry desert bread all last week at three different schools. They make deserts but not all the time. And in small servings or with less fats and sugars.

I was just curious: Are you a JET or a private?
exdream1999 10th-Feb-2013 01:04 pm (UTC)
Those all sound amazing!!

Right I work for a company that only sends teachers to private schools, but when I was in Saitama I worked for company that had a contract with just one city, which was were I taught at a Jr. High and an Elementary.
chansnug 10th-Feb-2013 01:01 pm (UTC)
we had the worst school lunches ever so this article made me jealous lol. thank goodness my mom always packed me a lunch but if there was a day i accidentally left my lunch at home, i'd rather not eat anything than eat the cafeteria food
placetohide 10th-Feb-2013 01:20 pm (UTC)
lol no at this article's generalization. They forgot about (depending on the school):

*school lunch always being cold because it has been sitting out on trays for hours before it's time to eat it (which I'm sure is GREAT for food safety/health)

*EXTREMEly high calorie counts for most school lunches, and oftentimes bigass piles of rice that have to be at least 400 calories each. That is not a balanced meal.

*Any presentation of bread is as something unhealthy or nutritionally barren. If bread shows up, expect it to be white sandwich bread with margarine or chocolate spread, or a white bread roll loaded up with sugar. The skeptical part of me thinks they do this on purpose so they can show Japanese how Japanese food is sooooo much better/much healthier than western food, when they could easily use healthier breads as well.
shiny_lights 10th-Feb-2013 01:47 pm (UTC)
The calorie counts on some of the meals my school district has is sometimes over 900 calories for junior high school. It's RIDICULOUS.
ohprecioustime 10th-Feb-2013 01:45 pm (UTC)
nope, our school never had lunches like I see on American or Japanese shows...our cafeteria usually just had pizza from a pizzeria near our school and that wasn't free

but tbh I like our system of bring your own, could never eat mass produced food made any of my schools growing up... sounds nasty, my junior high had an asbestos problem LMAO
awkward_as_heck 10th-Feb-2013 01:57 pm (UTC)
Some other ALTs in my prefecture say they have such nice school lunches but neither my Elementary or Junior High have them. I'm not sure why. Everyone brings their own lunch, within school guidelines.

annhh 10th-Feb-2013 02:23 pm (UTC)
schools providing home cooked meals is all fine and dandy but that's not enough to celebrate imo.. the quality suffers in many ways since it's mass produced and sits all day.

I cringe just thinking about the pizzas and greasy foods they serve around the world. they should only have healthy choices.

also, I hate packed lunch :D or I never had genius japanese thermo/cooler bags
chiakaiyuki 10th-Feb-2013 02:37 pm (UTC)
I went to school in England at the time of Jamie Oliver's food drive, and he didn't help anything.
I would have been so grateful if they'd introduced fresh, healthy meals rather than cheap, frozen versions.

Rice and fish sounds wonderful imo.
ptimachan 10th-Feb-2013 03:42 pm (UTC)
Jamie Oliver is making more changes now in school meals because many students skip lunch.

But when I went secondary school abt 3yrs ago my school served good quality food but it was more expensive then other schools. I guess it depends on schools as well.
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