Why Japan’s School Lunches Put Other Countries’ To Shame

Japan's new food program is a huge contrast to current plans in the US.

Credit: Osamu Iwasaki

A recent article has delved into the reasons why the Japanese nation is so successful, particularly exploring the details within their school lunch program. This has come at a time when the US is considering cutting the funding that provides school lunches for underprivileged children, which is in huge comparison to Japan who places a high priority and focus on their school children’s healthy meals on a daily basis. Whilst the US claim that there is not enough evidence to show that feeding kids improves their academic results, Japan points to the importance of regular homemade meals, according to recent reports.

The article in The Atlantic’s City Lab blog, titled “Japan’s school lunch program puts others to shame”, finds that more than 10 million elementary and secondary school students in 94 percent of the country’s schools are fed through this program, which consists of meals that are the complete opposite of the reheated cafeteria food that features prominently at American schools. The Japanese meals are prepared fresh every day from scratch by the school’s team of cooks. Vegetables that are grown on the school property, and tended to by classes, are also a regular ingredient in the meals. This method ensures that the young children are learning to eat well from an early age.

The aspect of the program that really makes Japan stand out is the fact that Japan see lunch time as an educational period, rather than a recreational one. They believe that the midday period is about teaching the children valuable skills which include serving food, table etiquette, and cleaning up. The Japanese government takes its responsibility seriously to teach kids good eating habits. Mimi Kirk writes for City Lab, “There’s a term in Japanese for ‘food and nutrition education’: Shokuiku. In 2005, with more children battling eating disorders, the government enacted a law on Shokuiku that encourages schools to educate children on good food choices. In 2007, the government advocated for hiring diet and nutrition teachers. Though these teachers are only in a small percentage of elementary and junior high schools, research has shown their positive effects, from better school attendance to fewer leftovers.”

All of the children arrive to their lunch time learning session fully prepared, with reusable chopsticks, a cloth placemat and napkin, a cup, and a toothbrush. Teachers will also sit with the children in order to set a clear example and answer any questions that the children may have. Following the meal, they will all sit and brush their teeth before starting a 20-minute clean-up period that includes the classroom, hallway, entrance and bathroom. The success of this program can set a good example to others, such as the US, who are quick to dismiss school meals. If executed well, these programs can fuel children to be more productive and responsive throughout the rest of their learning day. According to reports, this method can also “influence the next generation to have healthier eating habits, expanded taste buds, and a better understanding of the value of food. A program like Japan’s can also develop skills, such as working in a kitchen, serving efficiently, and cleaning thoroughly, that will be very helpful later in life.”

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