Healthy meals are prepared from scratch daily and schools are encouraged to educate children on good food choices.
In Japan, lunch is delicious, healthy, and part of the curriculum
In Japan, lunch is considered part of a child’s education, not a break from it. Ingredients come from local farmers or the school’s farm, and a team of cooks prepares the dishes fresh each morning. The children serve each other, clean up after themselves, and are given food and nutrition education. The child obesity rate, always one of the lowest in the world, continues to drop since the introduction of the program.
One school even publishes a cookbook so parents can recreate children’s favourites at home
In Japan, more than 10 million children receive delicious, fresh food every school day, in no small part because the country considers lunch part of a child’s education, not a break from it. Ingredients come from local farmers or the school’s farm, and a team of cooks prepares the dishes fresh each morning.
Elementary and junior high school students eat lunch in their classroom, where they learn about nutrition and Japan’s food history and culture. They also take turns serving the meal to each other, cleaning up, and recycling.
As government school lunch experts Nobuko Tanaka and Miki Miyoshi write. this helps children acquire “a sense of gratitude” and “spirit to appreciate foods and social manners.”
In 2005, the government enacted a law that encourages schools to educate children on good food choices. Then in 2007, the government advocated for hiring diet and nutrition teachers. While these teachers are currently in just a small percentage of elementary and junior high schools, research has shown their positive effects, from better school attendance to fewer leftovers.
The school lunch program has also no doubt contributed to the country’s already low global rate of obesity. Japan’s life expectancy, at 85, is one of the world’s highest.
One municipality in northern Tokyo even publishes a cookbook of its greatest school lunch hits, and parents call up their children’s schools for recipes.
“[They] hear their kids talking about what they had for lunch,” one Tokyo principal told The Washington Post. “Kids ask them to re-create the meals at home.”
School mealtimes are a scene of communal duty:
In both elementary and middle schools, students wear white coats and caps to serve their classmates. The children eat in their classrooms, and they get identical meals. If they leave food untouched, they are out of luck: Japanese schools have no vending machines. Barring specific dietary restrictions, children in most districts can’t bring food to school, either, until they reach high school.
The approach seems to be working. According to government data, Japan’s child obesity rate, always among the world’s lowest, has declined for each of the past six years, a period during which the country has expanded its dietary program.
When it comes to food, Japan has some advantages. Children are taught to eat what they are served, meaning they are likely to accept, rather than reject the food on their plates.
Japan also invests heavily in cultivating this mind-set. Most schools employ nutritionists who, among other tasks, work with children who are picky or unhealthy eaters.
Funding for lunches is handled locally. Municipalities pay for labour costs, while parents — billed monthly — pay for the ingredients, about $3 per meal, with reduced and free options for poorer families.
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