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.
For the last three years I have had to prepare lunch for my son to take to school with him. I always sent him a warm meal, in a thermos, usually comprised of leftovers or something that I would cook for him before school in the morning. I stood in the kitchen lovingly cooking his lunch every day. The only rules the school had were no nuts or candy. OK – easy enough, considering I always include fresh fruit and a salad and since I am conscience to buy organic whenever I can, I knew that he was having a balanced meal that was healthy and included some of the vital nutrients that his growing body needed.
This September, he started first grade, and the school rules changed. I am no longer allowed to pack his lunch, and he HAS to eat from the cafeteria.
The first graders need to learn responsibility and proper nutrition, so part of that lesson is allowing them to choose their food themselves.
I wouldn’t mind if they had the same organic, fruit and vegetable laden options that I would provide, but they don’t. Apparently they get organic “when they can”, and they try to make the parents feel better by saying that there is a “salad bar” available to the kids with baby carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs and such available. They also have a “sandwich bar” where the kids can have their choice of bread like white sliced bread, bagels, whole wheat sliced bread, etc. (my kids have never had white sandwich bread in their life). They have cold cuts (I don’t ever buy cold cuts at home, since they are full of nitrates and sodium, if anything I would get fresh cooked chicken or turkey and slice it for a sandwich), and butter and jam available. They always have some kind of breakfast cereal (non-organic, mind you), and milk, juice, chocolate milk available to drink. Now to be fair, they have a “hot food bar” available as well, where the kids have a selection of hot foods available usually consisting of some protein, starch, vegetable, a soup, perhaps some pizza or pasta. (more…)
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Of course, as a mother living in France, I was sent this article by about ten different people. At first, I sort of skimmed it and dismissed it since I tend to parent in much the same way as the French supposedly do – authoritative no’s and a complete expectation that I will be obeyed.
My youngest is three and he consistently proves me wrong on this point.
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This week’s Saturday Sidebar Question comes from World Moms Blog writer Jennifer Prestholdt. She asked our writers,
“What do you typically feed your kid(s) for lunch?”
Check out what some of our World Moms had to say…
Mama B. of Saudi Arabia writes:
“We recently decided to go all healthy with their school lunches and meals in general. Go whole wheat all the way. For the kids it was a bit of a rude awakening, and we found out trying new things in their lunch before trying them at home left the kids hungry and their lunch untouched (like cheese and apple on whole wheat toast). (more…)