If you went to public school in America like me, then you probably don’t have very fond memories of school lunches.

Bland chicken-fried steak with overcooked green beans, pizza cut into greasy squares, and tacos of questionable quality filled my childhood years and, in retrospect, I’m not sure how I survived it all.

These kind of school lunches aren’t the norm in other parts of the world, including Japan. In fact, the Japanese school lunch system is renowned the world over.

This past week I saw two articles that caught my eye: one praising Japan’s school lunches, and one about how grossed out some Japanese people are with American school lunches.

What Makes Japanese School Lunches Good?

Japanese school lunches, or kyuushoku (給食) are different from school lunches in other parts of the world.

Lunches are planned by dieticians and are usually made from scratch, using local, unfrozen ingredients. Portions are modestly sized, and the menus are carefully planned throughout the week to emphasize variety and nutrition. Every couple of days, kids might get to try spaghetti or Korean food or something a bit more exotic.

The result? Well, look for yourself:


Photo by Sudachi



Photo by Roger Jones

It might not be world-class, gourmet food, but it definitely looks like something I would like to eat. And it’s still lightyears beyond what I was served in school.

Almost all (something like 99%) elementary school kids enjoy these meals, and for only a few hundred Yen.

How do they do it?

Why the Japanese Prioritize School Lunches

Time for some history: after WWII, food was scarce throughout the country, so school lunches were pretty measly. You might get a meal of powdered milk and a few other foods, but nothing very nutritious nor hardy.

But as the Japanese economy began to gain steam and make the country as a whole richer, school lunches grew better and better.


The national government guides the school lunch system with a light touch, relying more on the local schools themselves to create their menus and decide for themselves what they want to eat.

School children serve food and clean up a bit after the meal. Not only does it save a bit of money, but it makes them feel involved in the whole process too.

It’s unfair to heap on so much praise, but it’s hard to think of many downsides to the whole system. The biggest issue with Japanese school lunches that I can think of is the occasional meal with whale meat, but that’s more of a foreigner concern than anything.

What do you think? How do Japanese school lunches compare to what you ate in school? Tell me in the comments!

  • goldfries

    Hello, what about those lunch sessions as portrayed in anime? Eg some of them prepared and brought food for self and family (no examples, too many anime with that. Usually the harem types. :P). Others would line up at canteen (eg Angel Beats …….)

    How far are those portrayal from reality? Kindly shed some light on this. :D

  • Gianmarco Russo

    I’m Italian…well, in my country school lunch service is pretty similiar to Japan: junkie food is avoided, and lots of vegetables are present in the weekly menus, in order to lead school-age children towards a proper alimentary education (the food Italian children eat at home is not always so healthy, as in many other rich countries). By the way, my experience was pretty bad at the elementary school (we eat at school only during the primary school years): I attended a Catholic school, run by nuns, and the food was awful…it was like being in Russian orphanage, seriously.

  • きら

    thats usually highschool depiction,the context above is below highschool levels

  • Tampopo

    When I went to school, the lunch was free. And the cafeteria workers were probably underpaid judging by how overall grumpy they were. I think that’s the problem we have here. You get what you pay for. If hundreds or thousands of kids are getting free food each day it probably won’t be great. But this was in NYC. I can’t speak for other areas. Maybe more funding needs to be provided for the school lunch program, and the workers need to be trained better and paid more. But that will take more tax payers dollars. Schools are underfunded as it is, especially in the inner city, where I went to school. So it’s a more complicated problem….at least Michelle Obama is working to solve the problem somewhat.

  • zoomingjapan

    We usually didn’t eat lunch at school as school was over around noon.
    I don’t know how much has changed back home in Germany since I’ve lived in Japan for many years now. I guess they still don’t have afternoon school there.

    I work as a teacher, but not at a school with school lunch. I’d love to get such healthy lunch every day to be honest! ^___^

  • Livi

    It sure as hell beats horsemeat ‘beef’ burgers…tesco standard. :)

  • razzie

    Just out of curiosity at this level do the kids still pay for lunch? and if so do you know how much it is..? (I’m just asking as far as comparison because I tend to think of our lunches being bad cause there so cheap…..(as well as much as students complain I’m not sure they’d eat that here..)
    though if I understand right you have to pay to be in most schools? so such lunches would be included in that?

  • razzie

    I just realized I totoatly skipped the place in the article that you mentioned this…sorry…but still curious about more exact pricing cause a few hundred yen can still be more than what I know of people pay ($3 at most I think…)

  • razzie

    not everyone but I know many people in the areas I have lived also have had free lunch or reduced lunch…
    I don’t think that the problem is something anyone in government can solve I think that at least part of the issue is mind set…
    people may complain but give the average elementary school student a salad or anything with a bunch a vegetables and watch how quickly it gets tossed…

    this isn’t to say funding isn’t an issue its a problem with all things school related…but I do think mind set has a lot to do with it as far as what people choose to eat…

    (as for me I always brought my lunch sooo…


    Just give me a big bowl of rice and some furikake and I am mint.

  • pinksharpii

    I remember my high school had some form of chicken at least 3 days a week. (as a veggie, this didn’t matter to me, but still!)
    A lot of schools in Japan, like the one I attended briefly, have students bring their own bento but they can buy concessions like snacks and milk, too (:

  • Jack

    My thought their spag bol was the horse’s bollocks mate

  • jack


  • Inaripo

    I worked in some Japanese primary schools and was always impressed by how the children would prepare the room for lunch, dole out the food and then clean their teeth. Even the youngest kids! I didn’t enjoy after lunch when kids with fishy breath would crowd to sit on my knee. There seemed to always be one fish dish. Or natto. Shudder.

  • Kenneth Hendricks

    As I recall from the history books, SCAP (that is, “Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers,” General MacArthur mainly) had a lot to do with the consumption of whale meat in post-war Japan. It was a cheap source of protein, and I feel like I have read that SCAP made the decision to add it into the school lunch menu.

    Google-fu turned up this text that goes into a bit more: “Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics and Diplomacy” By Jun Morikawa

  • Rachel Nabors

    Re: whale meat, it’s not always whale meat. Often dolphin meat is resold as “whale meat,” even though the levels of mercury in dolphins, who feed higher on the food chain, or often too high for safe human, let alone children, consumption. There have been movements to halt the serving of dolphin meat in schools to children for this reason, but it remains a largely undiscussed issue.

    At least, that’s what I understand. Feel free to expand upon the “dolphin meat in school lunches” discussion!

  • AndresMRJr

    Cold nuggets, wet fries and questionable pizza….for 12 years……cold nuggets, wet fries and questionable pizza…no this isn’t fair..

  • Camilleon

    There was an interesting article on this in another blog I follow, too:

  • Kasma88

    Wow, their school meals look amazing! I was always a packed lunch kid of guy but I always had pity for those poor people forking over an extortionate amount of money for ropey looking frozen meals with the usual piece of token over-cooked vegetable.

  • Joel Alexander

    I read that somewhere too, but I don’t recall exactly where. I’ve also heard that the continued eating of whale meat is a form of nostalgia – adults who grew up in the post-wat period remembering what it was they ate in school.

  • Dorothe

    Things have changed, since school is cut down from 13 to 12 years (most places), so you need to cram in those lessons in the afternoon.
    The menu at our cefeteria looks quite nice: Every day three differnet options, one meat/fish, one vegetarian and one cheaper “snack” (i.e. just fries or pasta). And it’s a different dish every day, every week. Though I doubt it’s regional or local, but I don’t really pay much attention. Unfortunately the quality the isn’t too good, it’s frozen/pre-prepares stuff mostly and from that one time I saw the kitchen I lost appetite to eat whatever comes out there :/
    I don’t have a lunch break (well, 10 mins ^^) so no time to get in the queue and eat with knive and fork like a civilized person ^^ Swallow some bread and banana, that’s enough -.-

  • Zue

    Is it really that uncommon to get properly cooked nutritional food in school? In sweden we have that, from that the kids go to daycare until they start university. At uni we have to pay for soggy lunches cooked from processed food without love, but all the other years its been great food. There are also vegetarian, halal, kosher and other diets to choose from. The food is payed by taxmoney and every meal is to be worth about 40sek wich is pleanty in my opinion. Heard the schoolfood is really shitty in the uk too. Makes me think of ‘jamie olivers foodrevolution’ Thanx for this interesting topic Hashi

  • orangedude

    I can’t complain about my high school lunches; the cafeteria staff worked very hard to offer us nutritious meals. We even got a Subway-esque sandwich bar at one point. My elementary school meals, however, were horrible! The stench of over-cooked or too-greasy pizza still make me gag from the memories. The food from those Japanese schools looks like something you’d pay decent bucks for at a restaurant in the US.

  • orangedude

    In my experience it’s the exact opposite here in the US. Food is pretty horrid in elementary school, gets a little better in middle school, and a bit better from that in high school. For the most part it’s lacking in proper nutrition and vegetarian/kosher choices (especially in the elementary schools). Food in the universities is amazing compared to grade school food, but pretty expensive.

  • Christina Burnfield

    In Canada, you don’t even have cafeteria’s til grade 9. At least here in Ontario where I grew up. We ate in our classrooms and most of us brought our own food from home. And even though I had more choice once i got to grade 9 through 12 i still brought my own lunches just out of force of habit. However, it worked out for the better on me. I’ve become very selective on what I eat. I won’t eat fast food of any kind, nor will i eat processed or frozen stuff that’s meant to be quickly cooked in the microwave either. Still I must admit that over all there’s a lot about Japan and its people that impresses me.

  • bussan

    I have been working in Elementry school for the past 5 years. And for the past 4 years I have had to rat kyuushoku. I have never had a good kyuushoku. While the meals are planned by dietitions the meals are meant for growing children anfd have way too many calories for adults who watch that stuff.

    Other things to note:

    Lunches are seperated into bowls and plates by the children.

    You have to drink milk 3.5%

    You eat the bones in the fish they give you.

    Depending on prefecture.. foods and whatnot. Your kyuushoku could taste horrible or barely edible.

    Sorry, I am an avid hater of kyuushoku. Hot food will always be cold,by the time you get to eat it.

  • ZXNova

    From what I heard, the food served in many schools is the same food that’s also served to prisoners in Jail. No surprise there.

  • alexandre j seguin

    I Canada we have to bring our own food at school… i just when you get to highschool there’s a cafeteria where you can buy food if you want… it was a mix of junk food and healthier “mom” style dishes… but i heard it got way too healthy now… poutine has become a once a week thing at my old highschool

  • Bridget

    i remember the nasty pizza that we always folded in half to keep it from falling apart

  • Pro kyuushoku!

    Wait, meals being served at schools have calorie counts suitable for children, and that’s a con? Also, having children involved in distributing the food sounds like a great idea, especially if you use it as an opportunity to teach them good food hygiene.

  • JudoKick

    Horse meat is just as healthy as beef. It’s idiotic to think that just because a kind of meat is taboo in the US for some reason, it is somehow inferior to factory-farmed, e. coli-infested, USDA-approved beef.

  • zoomingjapan

    So it did change apparently.
    Thanks for the input! :)

  • MrsSpooky

    This year they started regulating school lunches here too. It looks like the food has improved a lot from when we were in school (if the news can be believed), but the kids are rebelling, and not eating it. They say they’re not getting enough food, and the cafeteria staff is seeing a lot of it in the garbage. : I think maybe they LIKE the mystery meat, of course it’s possible they’re not getting enough food. Americans DO eat like horses. As for the Japanese school lunches, I don’t eat that well NOW. I think I’m envious. :)

  • Pappito Papa

    I grew up in Hungary a country under communist regime in that time. Almost everything was centralized as school food. In the schools there were big kitchens to prepare food for the kids. (smaller schools got the meals from big commercial kitchens and warmed it up locally) Most of the melas made out of scratch, lots of pasta, fairly amount of meat (pork, chicken) and soup was imminent part of the menu. (hungarians eat zillions different soups anyway) The quality was acceptable for an affordable price (and free for the poorest).

    The same system worked for high schools, buying extra stuff or sweets or junk food wasn’t an option. Most of us remember the shcool food was horrible but it was acceptible for that money I have fond memories acconding to that :) And no one had to starve.

    Now I am living in New Zealand and we have to pack our daughter’s lunchbox avery morning. It is totally strange for me, the school provides lunch breaks insted of lunch :) The good thing is, tho, we can control her food and we try to make it as healthy as we can.

  • Jon

    Back when I was in 6th grade, I could get Pizza Hut and Home Run Inn Pizza at lunch (they had a different brand of pizza every day). I don’t think they do it anymore. I couldn’t afford to buy lunch everyday in high school though, so I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich pretty much every day.

    Ironically enough, the pizza at my community college sucks, too. Good thing I don’t have to eat lunch on campus. I usually bring my lunch if I need to eat on campus anyway, since I’m a cheapskate.

  • Jay Sanders

    By high school I just pocketed my lunch money and waited to eat at home rather than subject myself to school lunches.

    My parents always talked about how good school lunches were in their day (50’s-60’s). By the late 70’s and on it was a whole other story. I have a rather harsh theory why this happened but let’s just say the shifting populations during the late 60’s really messed up school financing in general. Budgets had to be balanced and suddenly “ketchup” was considered one serving of veggies.

    My school teacher wife says lunches have improved since our days but it does really depend on how rich the district is. I don’t think the kids from North Dallas who drive luxury and sports cars to school are eating the same fair as those with 90% of kids on financial assisted lunches.

  • Satchi

    I grew up in Slovakia and I have the best memories of the school lunches….. Now that I live in the US I can only dream of a good school lunch T_T

    In Slovakia, and I assume in many other European countries, lunch is considered to be an important meal. Our school lunches always included a soup (though this was not always my favorite) and a main course, sometimes even a side salad, fruit or a treat (small piece of cake or something on a holiday). The lunches were always fresh and warm. I know some kids hated them, but that is because the foods served were not what they ate at home. You can’t please everyone, each family makes their food differently and kids are often picky whatever the culture.

    In starting in high school we even had a choice in the food. At my high school there was even a vegetarian option (something made of vegetables, pasta or something sweet). The food at my university was quite tasty too. Many larger companies/institutions still have their own cafeterias or let their employees got to cafeterias near by. I remember some where my mom went cooked so good she would buy an extra portion of food to bring home :D

  • Mordoc

    yep, students at elementary school and junior high get kyuushoku, high school students have to bring their own or eat in the cafeteria.

  • Mordoc

    At the schools I work in, which are all public schools, so there is no tuition, the school lunches are ¥250-300. So not very expensive at all.

  • Mordoc

    So, what you’re saying is that prisoners eat really well?

  • Mordoc

    I teach in junior high school and elementary school in Kyushu and I eat kyushoku in school every day. It’s usually way too much food for me, so I end up taking most of the rice home to eat with dinner. There are always soups and salads and good things to eat. If something is fried or really heavy, it’s normally just a small portion compared to the rest of the meal. I really enjoy the kyushoku at my school 90% of the time. Sometimes we get natto kyushoku or something else bland or gross, but not everything can be perfect. Today we had gratain, salad with cucumber and corn, and a vegetable and bacon soup, and with every meal, rice.

    I love that I don’t have to bring my own lunch because I’m much too disorganized and lazy for that, and I get healthy good food.

  • flora

    My experience was the opposite – food at my elementary school was pretty okay (then, again low, standards), and by high school things just got wretched.

  • flora

    Desegregation has nothing to do with crap school financing, and you should be ashamed of yourselves for even thinking that.

    The whole “ketchup=veggies” was a product of Reganomics back in the mid-80’s. My mother was in middle school when that crap was first implemented and told me about it – according to her, even the kids thought it was ridiculous.

  • flora

    I remember reading an article called “5 Dumb Habits You Get Being Poor” (it’s on Cracked if anyone would like to read it). The first habit it talked about was how you become accustomed to eating crap food & continue doing so even when you’re no longer poor.

    I think this is a case of that happening. It’s not that the kids LIKE mystery meat, it’s just that they’re USED to it, and the thought of anything else on that tray (even if it’s a step up) is too weird. When my family was broke I didn’t particularly LIKE vienna sausages, but if I cracked open a can to find caviar instead, you can bet that it was probably going straight in the dumpster.

  • Flora

    Here’s what I can tell you about school lunches.

    I ate the school lunches every day, up until my senior year of high school. I had put up with declining food quality and was willing to continue doing so until I could finally graduate & put it behind me. Then halfway through 12th grade, I took a bite out of a pork(?) cutlet and immediately threw up in my mouth. They’re normally of questionable quality, but this one was particularly bad – it tasted like Death, had a wet spot on the bottom where the breading got peeled off, and I’m pretty sure was partially rotten. Keep in mind that this is a month after I spat out broken-off piece of a plastic fork that was hidden in my portion of dry mashed potatoes.

    After that moment, I decided that I was done – I immediately threw out the rest of my lunch, walked out of the cafeteria, and went to go read in the library until it was time to go back to class. Unless it was Wednesday, I didn’t eat another school lunch for the rest of my high school days.

  • David

    I’ve lived in Japan for a year and a half and teach at a high school so I don’t normally get school lunch, usually it’s only at junior highs or elementary, but most of my friends who do get it complain about it. And it’s not just them, lots of the kids don’t like it either. With the local schools deciding the menu and preparation there is bound to be a range of deliciousness. Also making delicious food for 1,000+ people is hard any way you cut it.

  • MrsSpooky

    Well, not really a product of Reganomics. It’s a bit more complex than that:

  • MrsSpooky

    Yeah, that’s like finding those alleged “veal pops” on my plate at dinner when we didn’t have that much money for food. Some kind of meat-like substance on sucker sticks made to resemble a drumstick that fooled nobody. They were pretty awful but filled us up.

    Maybe the food is being dumped because it’s weird or unfamiliar. That would be a shame, some of the descriptions of the food being wasted sounded perfectly normal to me, but then I don’t know what kids are really eating these days, so I’m not a good one to judge.

    But yeah, the food can be the tastiest and most nutritious on the planet, but if the kids aren’t going to eat it, it’s just a waste of money.

  • deer

    My experience for 1 year at a junior high in Shiga was that the food was pretty tasty and nutritious at least 80% of the time. The rest of it was generally healthy as well, but mostly just not to my tastes. There were lots of whole small fish–as an American, I’m not used to eating fish heads. But the pieces of fish without faces were almost always delicious. The other thing that put me off was the way meats were cut– there was a lot more fat, skin, and tendon in the chicken and pork than I’m used to. Overall, it was much more respectable than what I’ve experienced in the U.S…. and the lunch ladies were also wonderful. ^-^

  • deer

    Actually, I have the answer to this one. They are high calorie, which is good for growing kids. And that’s a plus. But having seen the calorie counts–they *ARE* too high for adults who want to stay in shape. Nearly 900 calories for lunch anyone? But the worse thing is that they give teachers LARGER portions than what the kids get. I had to share with the overweight teachers or take some home every day. @_@.

  • Bifurious

    This is really interesting. In Australia our Schools don’t cook us meals, they sell namebrand packet food but we do not have many Schools that would cook us a meal, especially one that looks as good as these.

  • Lionrence

    In Canada the food served at school cafeterias is also awful, terrible memories. I’m sooooo jealous of this japanese kids.

  • suli

    You’re right. It’s worse that they throw all that (perfectly edible) food away. It’s nothing new that there’s stuff you don’t expect in all that processed junk. Why does nobody care about petroleum in chocolate but everyone freaks out on meat in a meatproduct? *sigh* People are weired.

  • linguarum

    Good point. The culture has a lot to do with it, too. Kids in Japan grow up eating a lot more vegetables, and they’re just not allowed to get away with “I don’t want to.” But that goes into a larger discussion of culture and child discipline. Also interesting to note that most restaurants in America have a separate kids’ menu (usually with stuff like french fries and chicken nuggets). In most restaurants in Japan, kids’ menus are unheard of.

  • Jay Sanders

    Not ashamed at all. Why would I be?? I never said anything about desegregation or made any claim it was bad. Don’t jump to conclusions, that’s called being prejudice. There were a LOT of reasons the population shifted so much then. Doesn’t matter the causes (good, bad, or indifferent), you move people around that much and you’re going to have problems. Just look at rural Japan.

    And my school lunches were of questionable quality before Reagan ever took office.

    This is why I usually avoid blog posts. It takes writing a novel to really say what you want without people misunderstanding.

  • Anon ymous

    I travelled to Japan in school, and I had school lunches at two different school, amazing food, and not expensive. When I compare that to the food I eat here, I wish I could eat Japanese school lunches every day.

  • Jessie

    actually school food in the UK is pretty good now, in my school we have a monthly lunch plan and each day most of us spend £1.80 ($2.79) on our main meal with an option to buy other stuff at break ( recess?). Every day there is a vegetarian and a meat option as well as a cold option. I go to a normal school but I have seen food served in private schools which I will admit is a lot better but with a much bigger price tag, some reaching £7 ($10) a day; basically you get what you pay for. If you really don’t like the food, buy it from the shop down the road.

  • Anonymous

    Oh boy American school lunchs are so disgusting. When I was 10-11ish the school had served the children a batch of rotten chocolate milk. So many kids wound up sick. This was in Portland btw.

  • Eevee

    I have to eat kyushoku everyday as a JET and I literally hate it! It’s huge and the soup tastes almost the same everyday. I go to 5 different schools and there is definitely a varying of quality too. I never used to think of myself as fussy with food until I had to eat lunch here everyday. Also – the kids have to finish everything on their plate so I always feel guilty if I want to leave some of the rice…I’d rather bring my own lunch any day but I already stick out so much as it is being a 5ft 10 white girl in an inaka.

  • Flora

    I think I’ve figured out why American school lunches (in particular) are so terrible – our teachers don’t eat with the kids.

    In a lot of other countries, the teachers are expected to eat alongside the students, and a grown man/woman is not about to eat soggy fries & burnt “pizza” and be expected to finish the workday on that. It’s primarily in those places that the kids get to use real silverware & eat food that’s healthy, let alone edible.

    American teachers always bring their own lunch from home or order out, and usually eat in the classroom or the teacher’s lounge. Solution to the school food problem; make them sit with their students & eat the same food. Better food for the students, better sense of community in the school (and I notice behavior in the cafeteria is better when they know the teacher’s watching).

  • HorrorChan

    Our high school didn’t have a cafeteria. The grade school, which also had middle school students, only had one. It wasn’t too far to walk to other school building. I stopped eating school lunches in high school since I lived across the street from it.

    Sometimes the one of the lunch ladies would bring in a turkey that they shot for Thanksgiving(I think you can tell where I probably live…) or make something from scratch. Having also worked in there most of the food is either canned or frozen. Nothing you couldn’t buy from the grocery store or in bulk.

    We also a had a day where cooks would get to choose the menu. Sometimes the main things were salads, PB&J, with other things but other than that school food really wasn’t that terrible where I lived. It was pretty much just like eating at home most of the time.

  • Ashley Haley

    Not until Grade 9? That’s definitely not something Canada-wide, haha. Both of my elementary schools had cafeterias.

  • Ashley Haley

    I worked in a Japanese high school, so we had a cafeteria with choices rather than kyuushoku – the food was really quality, though. I ate in the cafeteria all the time and could get things like donburi, tamagodon, curry rice, udon, onigiri, etc. Still miss it!

  • shiro

    Oh heavens, horsemeat is way too much of a luxury to ever show up in a school lunch in either country. Not even kidding. You’ll have to go to an izakaya in Nagano or Kumamoto for that.

  • shiro

    I live in a fairly big city for a JET and the school lunches aren’t fantastic, but the kids like them for the most part. They might complain about a particularly disgusting dish every now and then, but the only kids I see refusing to eat it are the middle school girls who think they’re on a “diet.” Even then they don’t throw it out, they give it to the baseball boys who have to eat twice their weight in rice to keep up with their after school clubs.

    Quite a change from your typical American child who will toss their veggies into the trash without a second thought.

  • kokosei

    And all this time, all I thought Japanese students ate was Melon pan.

  • Mei

    I think the most interesting thing about this system is indeed how it engages the students, bonds them by having them clean up after they are done.. It gives out the message of ‘enjoy together but also do the less fun stuff together’ which I think a lot of children lack in school these days. And of course, it teaches the children not to be afraid of food and eating. I remember a lot of kids (mostly girls) skipped their lunches, afraid of getting fat if they ate any of the junk we were offered. You don’t have that kind of problem with a healthy nutritious meal like that (:

  • エジプトのDEARS

    There was no lunch in my school, but the schools that have where I live would never compare to this.

  • Christine Delode or less the same in France but cooked in a total different way :) Met vegetables and fruits no french fries or nuggets!!!

  • Tony

    This sure looks a lot better than my current school lunches… I’m not even freaked out by the occasional whale meat, I’d be happy to try it over some mystery meat Monday.

  • Jinan

    Thankfully my mom packed a healthy lunch for me everyday when I was a kid, so I hardly ever ate school lunches, but I always thought that they looked extremely unappetizing… On the times where I did try them they were always either tasteless, soggy, dry, greasy, or a combination of those… And vegetables were rare (other than those vile canned green beans. Ugh.) And it’s obvious that most of the food was previously frozen- nothing was made in the kitchen, they just reheated food (at least in the school district I was in). It’s a real shame…

  • shintee

    wahaha, this is interesting. didn’t know anything about…what was that word, kyuushoku before!

  • Peace

    I grew up eating school lunch in Japan. Now that I am a teacher in the U.S., it makes me worried to see what the students are eating everyday…. I don’t want my sons to eat their school lunch, so I make “obento” for them everyday. We have to do something about our school lunch here in the U.S. Not only the school lunch does not taste good, but it is NOT healthy for our children.

  • Yuki

    Disqus isn’t letting me use Twitter to sign in… Anyway.

    In elementary school in middle Tennessee (United States), the lunches I had were pretty good, at least the vegetables, anyway. For me, there have always been the occasional “meat should not be this tough or cold” problem, and I never liked the spaghetti, the meatloaf, or the corn nuggets. I always ate my vegetables though.

    In middle school and high school, the quality did seem to go down… Not only that, but (at least in my school) our options got restricted. In sixth grade we could get iced tea, as well as chocolate eclairs and other things that by the next year were for teachers only; we could only drink milk or buy water from a vending machine (and it wasn’t until ninth grade that they removed the carbonated drinks from those vending machines anyway). A lot of kids would throw most of their lunch away, swap with others for the food they did like, get salad from the salad bar instead, or buy a bunch of chips and cookies and eat those instead. Eventually I (and several others) began bringing my own lunch…

  • Tessra

    I volunteer in an Australian High School Canteen where healthy food is made and served. :-)

  • JoshDH0

    In Australia, my primary (elementary/Prep-7) school used to sell food that was quite good at the tuckshop (although at my primary school, the tuckshop had to close down for several years before restarting and only being open on Fridays). They didn’t trust the students so they had thys system where the parent would write down their menu choices on a brown paper bag with money enclosed, and the bag would turn up the next day full of food.

    At my high School (8-12), the tuckshop is open every day, and students get to choose what they buy, but the food is usually made of cheap ingredients (like home brand “cheese”). However, they try to keep it healthy nowadays. I hear that the tuckshop used to be profitable and popular until the state government put in new regulations to combat childhood obesity. Once, a guy I know saw black mould on his chicken wrap (I saw it too). I don’t know why he still ate it.

  • Jon E.

    Yeah, same here. (Eastern U.S) ; Food was absolutely dreadful in elementary school. slightly better in Middle, and then the best it could get while still being completely unhealthy in High School.

  • Jon E.

    It’s so crazy that I just stumbled upon this article here, because my Japanese friend (we live in the U.S) and I JUST – and I mean JUST – had a conversation comparing and contrasting school lunches from Japan and the U.S. We even branched off into a much more frightening and generalized topic of how nutrition is viewed within each country by the majority of the public. I say more frightening because it really makes you realize how unbelievably, utterly disgusting we are as Americans. You could spend an entire twelve hours having a discussion on how much salt we overconsume, and its consequences which we are already seeing. That’s just salt. I haven’t even gotten to the FDA’s approval of a certain amount of drops of blood per gallon of milk, the pesticides we swim in and pretend we have no idea we’re consuming poison, or even the extra hormones we swallow or the artificial colors and preservatives . Oh, look at that, I’m rambling anyway…kinda hard not to once you really wake up with the issue of nutrition in the U.S. :-

    Anyway, thanks for the article!

    P.S: (Site-related question here): Is there a date written on the articles on Tofugu somewhere? I think my eyes are missing it.

  • Ilze Botha

    In my schools we never got lunch like this, not even the “mystery-meat” option :P we had to take our own food to school or buy at the tuck shop at ridiculous prices.

  • dddd

    most of my school lunch is ok except for the hamburgers there gray and it has fat on it

  • demonic-cookie

    At my school the selection is pretty good. I live in a tiny town with about 500 kids in my school. Every day something new is available, I never buy it though because it really LOOKS gross. The chicken nuggets are better than fast food ones. They just put in a sandwich bar. More and more often fruit is served in a little cup as the side, I just had strawberries and cream today. But there’s still so much crap you can buy. If I ran a school food business I wouldn’t put a selection of 10 different kinds of chips and cookies right there for kids to buy.

  • ILuvFood

    OMG! I went to a private Catholic all girls school in the Philippines for 11 years and the cafeteria food was amazing. It’s not like how it is above, where the school has dietitians and plan the food but we had a lot of options to choose from and you just buy what you want. Some examples: different kind of dumplings, porridge, basic sushi (nothing fancy but still good), grilled chicken/porkchop, beef stroganoff, shawarma, local pizza and pizza hut pizza (which was pretty good), pesto/white sauce/red sauce pasta, hotdogs in a bun but with like chili and cheese and stuff, Filipino food, and then some more dishes paired with rice. We had a lot of fruit selection and vegetables too.

    And then I moved to America to finish high school. I was sorely disappointed with the food that I packed my own lunch. The pizza or the fries or the pasta just wasn’t as good as the ones I used to have. I couldn’t understand why, if I was willing to pay for my own lunch, would we not have better options :| Sigh but I am well out of school now, although I still miss the food from my old school even until now. I’d love to eat the Japanese school lunches, they look yummy.