I read on the internet a lot about how America is trying to change their school lunch program and make it healthier. And I read a lot about how some people are not happy about this. They complain that kids won’t eat what they don’t like, food gets wasted, etc.

All of that may be true. But I thought I would share what school lunch is like here in Japan.

Children in elementary schools across the country receive a hot lunch every day. The menu is widely varied, with international kid favorites like spaghetti with tomato sauce, the local preference of curry and rice with salad and yogurt, to more traditional foods like fish with miso sauce, vegetable pickles, and wakame seaweed soup. Most days the meals are heavy on vegetables. They include fruit in season occasionally, and maybe once a month or so there is a light desert like jelly (jell-o) or ice cream. Some days they have rice, other days they have bread, still other they have noodles.

And, with a few exceptions, the kids love it!

Why is that?

Part of the reason may be attitude. When my husband was a kid, they didn’t have the facilities to prepare rice and noodles, so he looks at the monthly menu and says “ii na-,” I wish I could have had that! Let’s go back another generation, to my father-in-law. He had bread and milk only every day (ironically enough, he says it was supplied by the occupying US forces,) and he was grateful for it at a time when there may or may not have been dinner waiting for him at home. But- hamburger steak and pickled cabbage with tomatoes? “Ii na!”

In our city, preschoolers, junior high kids, and high school kids have to take their lunch. A bento lunch can be a wonderful thing, but it isn’t hot and doesn’t come with milk.

But perhaps the most important reason is that the kids themselves are involved in food preparation. Each week, half the class is in charge of serving the other half. They carry the pots and trays and multiple little dishes and utensils up to their classrooms, then ladle and scoop and pass the food to each other. When time is up, they clean it up and go have recess.

So if you don’t eat, or you take too long, you make your friends late for recess. That’s quite a motivator there, isn’t it?

Japanese children, in most cases, don’t have the option of taking their lunch if what’s on the menu that day isn’t to their liking. When my son was in first grade, that really bothered me. There were days when he only ate rice, or only ate bread, and I would have been happy to have been able to pack him a sandwich or a banana or something! But after being faced with foods he wouldn’t normally try, day after day, he’s blossomed into quite the adventurous eater. He eats so many different things now. Dinner time is much less of a battle than it used to be, and I think that’s due to the varied and interesting food he gets at school every day.

Do your children have a hot lunch at school? What’s on the menu for chow time?

This is an original post by World Moms Blog contributor, Melanie Oda in Japan, of Hamakko Mommy.

Photo credit to the author.


Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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