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The Japanese school lunch


torakris
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My children attend the neighborhood public school here in Japan are are currently in grades 1 and 3. Today was the day the parents could go to the school and watch how the lunch is made everyday, learn about the considerations that go into the planning of the menu and then we were able to eat the lunch.

Kyushoku, as the school lunch is called in Japan, started after WWII to provide kids with a healthy meal at a time when good food was hard to come by. It is also viewed as part of the children's education, they learn manners including expressions said both before and after the meal as well as good habits such as washing your hands before eating. They also teach about different foods, explaining varieties and origins hoping to encourage the children to avoid likes and dislikes. The lunch can be made in facilities at the school or at a central location and then taken to the schools. My school is quite large with 892 students (and 56 teachers/staff) to feed and has its own kitchen, the school also employs 4 cooks, 2 part time helpers and one nutrionist. Everyone eats the same meal and the teachers eat in the classroom with the children. The meal is paid for by the parents, we pay 3700 yen (about $35) a month and it works out to about 221 yen ($2) a meal.

The city of Yokohama plans the meals and schools all over the city will have the same menu for the month but often varying the days to avoid ingredient shortages. The main dish today was mabo-eggplant (like mabodofu but with eggplant instead of tofu) and used 500 eggplants at our school alone! The nutrionist for the school who gave the talk today stressed the use of seasonal vegetables as well as those from local sopurces and that everything is amde from scratch, all of the dressing, sauces, rice toppings, etc.. She also explained that the chosen menus should provide 1/3 of the childrens daily nutrional needs as well as 1/2 of the daily nutrional needs of calcium and certain vitamins that the Japanese tend not to get enough of. The amounts of food are different for the different age groups and second helpings are often available for those who want it. Leftovers aer then collected and weighed and decisions are made about how to improve the dish in the future if needed.

How kyushoku starts its day!

The food (vegetables, meat, etc) is all delivered to the school in the morning, all food is prepared on premises and prepared the day it is to be eaten. Preparation of the food starts around 9:00, this includes the disinfecting of all surfaces in the kitchen, the washing of cans (of corn), cartons (of milk), etc and chopping of the vegetables. We were told that the chopping of the eggplant today alone took one hour. Then they start the cooking, all foods (except fruit) are heated, even salads and dressed dishes. The sample dish is made for display and another dish is made up to be stored for 2 weeks. Every day a complete meal is stored in a special refrigerator along with samples of all the ingredients in their fresh/raw state in case there is any case (or suspected case) of food poisoning. The sample dish is put on display in front of the kitchen so everyone can see the menu.

Today's sample

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next to the sample on the wall is a board describing all of the ingredients usedin todays's meal broken down into their food groups

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30 minutes before the meal is to be eaten, it is served to the principal, if he finds the taste satisfactory (and doesn't die, as the nutrionist joked) the food is prepared for the classrooms. The "buckets" of food are separated by class according to the number of children and the ages and are labeled.

These are the buckets of rice and the bowls of goma-shio furikake (a rice topping made with salt and black sesame seeds)

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In the back you can see the large vats used in the kitchen, another view of the kitchen, the preparation area

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For children that have allergies, food is separated and labeled with the child's name, today there was a salad that had a dressing with chopped peanuts and this class has two children who have peanut allergies

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The children are responsible for carrying the food and dishes to the classrooms, serving it to their classmates and then carrying it back to the kitchen. This rotates on a weekly basis and at the end of the week the smock and hat they wear to do this comes home and the parents are responsible for washing and ironing it.

Here are the children lining up in the hallway, each class goes in a group together of about 8 kids.

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carrying the food up the stairs

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and dishing it out

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The food is dished in the bowls, then carried on trays to the desks where the children have laid out their cloth napkins (brought from home) and the food is neatly placed in front of each child. Once everyone has received the food and everyone is seated, they repeat in unison "itadakimasu" which is an expression that shows their gratefulness for the food and then they start eating.

My lunch for today

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salad of bean sprouts and cucumber with a peanut dressing, mabo-nasu (eggplant cooked in the style of mabodofu) with the addition of green peppers and bamboo shoots, sprouted rice with sesame-salt topping and milk

Here is a look inside a first grade classroom setting up the desks into "tables" for lunch

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and my 3rd grade daughter (butterfly shirt) with friends :biggrin:

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At the end of the talk the nutrionist shared the 3 best and worst lunches as picked by the children

BEST

1. curry rice

2. yakisoba (stirfried noodles)/kara-age (fried chicken)

3. bibimbap

WORST

The least liked foods were the more traditional style Japanese foods, hijiki (type of seaweed), beans, and kiri-boshi daikon (dried daikon radish strips)

The nutrionist encouraged the mothers to try to make more of these foods at home so thta the kids learn to like them/become use to their flavors and they even passed out recipes for them!

It is far from restaurant fare but it is much better than what other children from around the world are eating for lunch.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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What a fascinating essay, thanks Tora :smile:

Talk about an organized system! My grade school was nothing like this....we had a 'hot dog' lunch once a month - and that was the extent of any kind of 'nutritional program'. lol

Its particularly great to see how involved they are with parents - ensuring good practise of health & manners at home as well. I'm very impressed.

I wish my university cafeteria had similar food, it looks delicious! :cool:

the tall drink of water...
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As a nativa Japanese who was in elementary school in the late 1960s, I am all too familiar with the scenes in the photos you posted. I'm glad that they don't seem to use ill-famed sporks (saki-ware spoons in Japanese) any longer. But there is one thing that bothers me: They don't seem to provide chopsticks even though they serve rice. Or, are pupils required to bring their own chopstickes with them?

For those of you who don't know saki-ware spoons, here is a site that shows some examples:

http://homepage1.nifty.com/nekocame/60s70s...u/kyusyoku3.htm

(Scroll down, and you will see photos of them.)

EDIT:

Adventures in Eating?? How come you started this thread here?? :shock:

Edited by Hiroyuki (log)
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Thank you so much for this photo essay. Fascinating. Makes me want more but also raises the bar impossibly high for our sad school lunch programs here in the states.

You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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Fascinating! I think US schools should study up on how school lunches are working in Japan. These kids are actually eating fresh, healthful meals. My husband went to grade school in Tokyo--I'll have to pick his brain about this.

One question: Are students all required to eat the school lunch?

Julie Layne

"...a good little eater."

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Thanks Kris, that was a great essay. Wow what a difference between Japanese and American school lunches.

Emma is going to private kindergarten next year that does not have a lunch program. On the one hand, it will be challenging to pack an interesting, varied lunch 5 days a week. On the other, we can be glad she is missing out on the bland industrialized crap that the public school is serving.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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That was an eye-opener, T and your daughter and her friends look very sharp indeed. This particular meal was vegetarian. What frequency during the week does this happen and how often does fish/beef/chicken get served?

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

Portland Food Map.com

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I'm glad that they don't seem to use ill-famed sporks (saki-ware spoons in Japanese) any longer. But there is one thing that bothers me: They don't seem to provide chopsticks even though they serve rice. Or, are pupils required to bring their own chopstickes with them?

EDIT:

Adventures in Eating?? How come you started this thread here?? :shock:

The children eat with either a spoon or chopsticks depending on the menu. In the case the mapo-nasu was meant to be poured oved the rice and eaten together, it was quite saucy. My children just informed me that they use chopsticks almost everyday. :biggrin:

I put it in Adventures in Eating, because it is a little different from what most people are used to eating, at the least the style of eating, but most of all because if I stuck it at the bottom of the 5 page kyushoku thread no one would see it. :raz:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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One question: Are students all required to eat the school lunch?

That is a good question and I am really not sure of the answer. You would probably have to have a REALLY good excuse like multiple severe allergies or something like that , since they see this as part of the education.

I don't know of anyone at this school who doesn't eat the lunch.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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American schools would be in much better shape if we followed the Japanese example. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Can you imagine if American parents were expected to clean their child's smock and return it in two days. Or have children be involved with the serving of their own meal? Or if they had no choice in what was for lunch.

I leave you with this parting thought.....in the past two weeks leading up to the last day of school, the majority of my students ate lunch made of processed food.

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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This particular meal was vegetarian. What frequency during the week does this happen and how often does fish/beef/chicken get served?

Actually it wasn't vegetarian, there was ground pork in the mabo-nasu.

There are actually very few vegetarians in Japan, meat seems to be added (though in small amounts) to most everything.

Of the 21 days they eat the school lunch in June they are served the following:

fish/seafood 6 times

beef 3 times

pork 16 times

chicken 1 time

tofu 3 times

and one time they have a sausage with liver added (I am assuming it is a pork sausage with chicken livers but it doesn't specify....

There are no meals served that don't contain any meat and in some cases there are more than one kind of meat/fish served on the same day.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I put it in Adventures in Eating, because it is a little different from what most people are used to eating, at the least the style of eating

And while that's more than enough reason, it fits for others as well. Most people don't realize that AiE is about more than just "weird" food, it's also about content like this--where it's exhaustively researched and assembled into a cohesive "story". If that wasn't the case, we'd simply call the forum "Weird Food".

The idea is that topics which are based more around discussion will always be better in the local forum, but ones like this--where it's more of a "presentation" (a photo essay, a travelogue, documentation of some kind of culinary experiment which doesn't fit better in another forum)--will often fit better here. It's the attention to detail, and the narrative nature of it that we want.

And a good presentation it is, Kris... Thank you for it. America could, indeed learn something from your adopted country in this department.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Can you imagine serving pork as the only choice 16 times out of 21 in a US metropolitan area!

I can hear the Jewish and Muslim parents at the school board meeting now.

About the cost, is there a subsidy for low income - or don't they exist in Japan?

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What a wonderful, well written article Torakris !

Not only do the kids eat a balanced, nutritious lunch, they also learn good hygiene, good manners, and to be responsible.

Who says education has to stop during lunchtime ?

Truly, these lunches provide far more than mere nourishment !

cheers :smile:

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i loved this!

  Kyushoku, as the school lunch is called in Japan, started after WWII to provide kids with a healthy meal at a time when good food was hard to come by. It is also viewed as part of the children's education, they learn manners including expressions said both before and after the meal as well as good habits such as washing your hands before eating. They also teach about different foods, explaining varieties and origins hoping to encourage the children to avoid likes and dislikes.

this is something i would love to see happen even in substantially scaled back fashion in india where a similar scheme was launched by the government to provide at least one cooked meal a day to primary school children.

A free mid-day meal is provided to all children in government, corporation, panchayat and municipal schools — primary and secondary — in the state. The main objective of the mid-day meal scheme was to boost enrollment and reduce school drop-outs. These objectives have been substantially attained, with dramatic impact on the enrollment and retention of girl children in particular. Additionally it has provided employment to destitute mothers who work as cooks in the various noon meal centres in the state

unfortunately it doesn't always go quite as smoothly as that report suggests.i won't feed you all with tales of horror but the idea of testing the food on the school principal would not really be a joke in many places!

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That is fascinating! Thanks for sharing it.

amaaazing post! :biggrin:

thanks torakris...

and i know you've been told this before, but your daughter really looks like you!

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean."

--Isak Dinesen

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Ah, this brings me back. Though I only visited Japan a few weeks a year for a while in middle- and high-school, but I reserve my right to be nostalgic about school lunch time! I was in high school, so we didn't have this sort of kyushoku program, but the school cafeteria served many kyushoku staples such as the mapo-dofu, curry rice, and a really good tonkatsu.

The best lunches were the ones brought from home in bento form. Typically composed of the previous night's leftovers, or little items like these sweet meatballs, gyoza, BBQ eel (Unagi..one of the best manifiestations of the bento), and of course plenty of rice! Ooh, and the furikake. Who knew a little packet of freeze-dried herbs and spices and sesame seeds could be so good on room-temp rice! I hadden't made this connection before it was mentioned in the thread, but I believe furikake shares an ingrediant with panang curry. A highly addictive ingrediant. *twitch*

I still have my gaijin-sized bento box. Should start packing lunches for work in it...

Just need to score some furikake.

Itadakimaaaasu!

Matt Robinson

Prep for dinner service, prep for life! A Blog

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Can you imagine serving pork as the only choice 16 times out of 21 in a US metropolitan area!

I can hear the Jewish and Muslim parents at the school board meeting now.

About the cost, is there a subsidy for low income - or don't they exist in Japan?

I too was quite surprised by the number of times pork was served! and by the lack of chicken... I wonder if there is some kind of connection with a pork farm..?

The only thing that I can think of is that it is easy and probably requires no prep (cutting,etc) as it probably arrives already thinly sliced.

There is monetary help for low income families, we all receive a form at the beginning of the year and if you qualify the city pays for everything I think including extra money to pay for things like pens, notebooks, gym uniforms, bathing suits, etc.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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