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:
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!