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School lunches keep Japan's kids topping nutrition lists

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By Natsuko Fukue

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© 2019 AFP

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The lunches are mandatory -- no packed lunches allowed -- and while they are not free for most, they are heavily subsidised.

Cripes, another fallacy being passed along as fact. Gets tiring when the folks who write articles like this don't find the time to actually research the accuracy of the information they are publishing!

It is ASSUMED that they are mandatory. While just about everyone plays the game, and in reality it does save quite a bit of money and time for families, they are NOT mandatory!

When my daughter was in the local ES, there was a classmate of her's that always brought their own lunch every single day. This child had some serious allergy problems that she was being treated for by a doctor, and she had special meals prepared by her mother, daily.

There are exceptions to the rules of "mandatory"

7 ( +16 / -9 )

No surprise there. A typical school lunch in my home country is a donut, chips, burger/pizza, high sugar juice or chocolate milk.

10 ( +15 / -5 )

I call for Japanese school lunches to get a UNSECO listing

19 ( +23 / -4 )

Kids also learn discipline, routine, cooking and cleaning skills, teamwork and have fun preparing and eating the meals together.

Has always surprised me why other countries do not copy this system.

12 ( +16 / -4 )

@Vince Black

very nice!!!!! (⌒▽⌒)

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Yes, the school lunches are healthy, but I wouldn't call them delicious. However, once the kids start senior high their diet changes very quickly. Many get bento boxes made for them, but many also live on cup noodles and convenience store junk food. Quite the contrast, don't you think?

8 ( +12 / -4 )

If you think loading up on refined carbohydrates is healthy, then sure, the Japanese school lunch is healthy!

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

It's not that Japanese school lunches are so good - they are, but that's not the point I want to make. It's that American school lunches have bowed to the pressure of the purveyors of industrialised garbage. When I was a kid in England, school lunches were nutritious, well balanced and well prepared. But that was a long time ago and I suspect that English school lunches have gone the same way as American school lunches.

Of course, children everywhere need nutritious food. They also need to know what is nutritious and what to avoid. This information should be in every school curriculum at every level.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

Yes, they are healthier than many western school lunches.

BUT they need to add vegetarian options. My 11 year old daughter who has given up meat needs to take in veggie sausages etc to replace the compulsory meat dishes on the school menu.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

Well, maybe some people should eat those school lunches for a couple of years.

Healthy, maybe. Delicious, lots of variations, and looking nice, - don't think so.

And believe me, I know what I am talking about after XX-amount of years!

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

But that was a long time ago and I suspect that English school lunches have gone the same way as American school lunches.

Maybe you’ve seen them, Jamie Oliver has done some great stuff both in the UK and the States. It’s a TV series. Eye opening and shocking, especially when he has to fight the LA school-boards. If the US Congress can be successfully lobbied to pass a law saying Pizza is a vegetable, then you know who and what is calling the shots in my government.

The same goes for Japan. One would think university convenience stores and cafeterias could get highly discounted/subsidized fruit for the kids. Nope, just bread, bread, and more bread.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Don't think it's a Japan vs rest of the world thing tbh. Schools all across old europe have had canteens for decades (no food/lunch in classes though which is imo better/more hygienic).

Kids/teens sit around tables and are served proper 3-4 course meals (typically, salad or cold meats for starter, occasionally soup; fish/meat and veggies for main then cheese/mixed green salad & finish off with a piece of fruit/yogurt for dessert).

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It is ASSUMED that they are mandatory. While just about everyone plays the game, and in reality it does save quite a bit of money and time for families, they are NOT mandatory!

You are incorrect, they cater to those kids with allergies, pls get your FACTS, "about your friends kids" correct.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Excellent news, but not surprising. Great job, Japanese Government! The fact that only 1 in 7 Japanese kids are obese/overweight, compared to almost HALF of USA kids, says it all.

The West should learn from and copy Japans school lunch system. Long term, Billions of dollars would be saved in healthcare.

-5 ( +9 / -14 )

The worship of the school lunch system is getting out of control. Isn't the fact that schools are placed in residential neighborhoods close enough that the kids can walk there every day another big factor in the lack of obesity?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

The Japanese school lunch system is good and don't get the milk being wheeled out every time but, whatever, it gets them what they need.

One problem with it being rolled out to other countries is that there is no choice - Japanese kids are pretty compliant let's be honest and they'll just eat whatever's out in front of them. Other places would need to have a vegetarian option for certain religious groups, kosher, halal... I suppose you could get round that by checking in advance but it complicates it somewhat. Not that it shouldn't be done, but you have to remember that the Japanese system is based on homogeneity.

One thing I do respect though is that the government treats school meals as an educational matter, not an agricultural matter. I read an interview about an international conference for school meals and the Japanese sent staff from the education ministry while everyone else sent representatives from the agricultural ministry! That's one thing that could be copied to get an equally effective result if not the same system

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Bragging about Japanese kids learning manners, focusing on harmony, talking about how healthy the Japanese people eat, and even talking about the unique four seasons for good measure! This article hits almost everything on the bingo board!

8 ( +11 / -3 )

I am sorry but this is a lot of BS!

Yes Japan has less obesity and overweight problems, although around 30% of Japanese men above 40 years old are considered overweight. Now what this report misses is that Japanese kids are on the opposite trend of being over skinny and small which is not better really. A scientific study has shown recently that the Japanese babies weight has constantly decreased since the 80s because of the body of their mothers being smaller and smaller. And this culture of skinniness particularly among women (and more and more for the younger generation of men) comes from this education of over controlling the weight to the point of paranoia and also for formatting them to eat so few. Another factor is of course the cost of quality food which is very high in Japan, but this education of eating so little is also a contribution factor to this nation wide skinniness. So not being obese or overweight does not mean that people are more healthy.

but children learn to serve, and clean up on their own."

Yeah yeah the usual non sense. The only reason that children have to do it is that the poorly funded schools in Japan want to save money on employees for a real cafeteria and to clean the school. This practice does not translate well at all when they are adults since many Japanese are as messy as people in other countries. Actually men here are a total disaster in house work so this school cleaning tasks are meaningless in practice.

"Because many Japanese are health-conscious, they try to eat a variety of food, which is good," he said.

This is actually flat wrong. Many Japanese have no idea on how to eat healthy. Again they just it so few.

There is no choice of meal, and no concessions offered for vegetarians, or anyone with religious restrictions, with members of either group being few and far between in largely homogenous Japan.

I don't support a specific choice for religious reasons but we are in 2019 and the fact that they don't offer a vegetarian menu and force people to eat meat in a time where the consumption of meat should be decreased is pathetic. We have to teach our children about that and how they should be environmentally responsible with also what they eat. Japan is not doing it and it just shows that this is system is archaic and not up to date with modernity.

rice with grilled fish and a spinach and sprout dish, served with miso soup with pork, alongside milk and dry prunes.

How one can consider this a good diet is beyond me. It lacks a variety of vegetables, they often use the same ones probably because vegetables are so expensive here. The miso soup is full of salt and I am really not happy of the over consumption of pork in Japan too. Strong epidemiological links exist between pork consumption and liver disease, particularly for processed pork. The grilled fish although good in principle is often served completely dry, over salty and it just tastes bad. The dry prunes is cheap. And then comes white rice. This is where the problem of all Japanese (and other Asian countries) diet relies really. They use it as basically a fast stomach-filling food. White rice has a high glycemic index, lacks essential nutriments (like fiber and magnesium) but because of its high glycemic index, it brings rapidly a feeling of being satiated. Not to emotion that white rice is known to increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. So the fact that they continue to feed so many children with large amount of rice is really insane.

The lunches are mandatory -- no packed lunches allowed --

This is ridiculous. People should have the free choice to decide what their children eat. As often in Japan, the ones in charge assume that they know better than the people below them.

The Japanese government studies nutrition and eating habits in Japan annually, and uses the results to shape what goes into the school meals, she added.

So that's why they still fill them with white rice?

1 ( +12 / -11 )

And we're taught to eat seasonal food, which also contributes to good health. Japan is one of the rare countries that pay so much attention to food that is associated with specific seasons,

I forgot this one. This is also flat wrong and completely opposite to the reality. This is just silly nationalism rhetoric. They sell tomatoes and people buy them all over the year. This is just one example among many others.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

Ahh, school lunches....

Let's face it, the subject makes for good articles.

Any long-time Japan hand knows that the "quality" of Japanese school lunches has been subject of article after article. Especially when contrasted with school lunches in the U.S.

Inevitabley, some writer uses Japan's school lunches to make a point about the shortcomings of school lunches in the U.S. Occasionally other countries, such as in Europe, are referenced, but there always tends to be an implied contrast to the U.S.

Our son enjoyed hearty school lunches in preschool and now in elementary school. Always with rice, some type of veggie, meat / fish / main dish, and soup or something else. The ingredients were generally always fresh / nearly fresh.

The meals are simple, they are relatively balanced, and there certainly is not a lot of processed items in them.

So, that is our experience. What I know from my son's cousin in the U.S. is that the school lunches there are... processed, unbalanced and generally lacking.

I am not saying that Japanese school lunches are the dog's bollocks, but they are not the worst thing around!

7 ( +8 / -1 )

"the highest rate of youth suicide in the world. Perhaps being served these bland meals day in and day out has something to do with it."

and the West has the highest murder rate, highest illiteracy rate, highest teen pregnancy rate, highest drug abuse rate, in the developed world maybe white bread and beef day in day out has something to do with it.

LOL at the Japan hater.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

This child had some serious allergy problems that she was being treated for by a doctor, and she had special meals prepared by her mother, daily.

If the best example of an exception is something like this, most people will say they are mandatory. Mandatory to most people implies the lack of voluntariness, not that there might absolute no exceptions.

My 11 year old daughter who has given up meat needs to take in veggie sausages etc to replace the compulsory meat dishes on the school menu.

One can make the pitch that 11 years old is a bit early to make oneself a vegetarian, and one of the points of the school lunch is to teach children to at least tolerate as much as possible, so kicking off an entire food category would be antithetical. Being a vegetarian comes with substantial social and personal cost :-)

Do people here not have the teeth or jaws to eat the various types of bread typical of continental Europe?

I'm not sure I would want to eat bread regularly that needs substantial "teeth or jaws" (I suppose you mean they are hard).

The only reason that children have to do it is that the poorly funded schools in Japan want to save money on employees for a real cafeteria and to clean the school.

If you can save money and at least give the kids a chance to learn at the same time, that's generally considered a good thing.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I was very skeptical when people told me that school lunches are healthy and delicious. However, now that my kids go to school I can say that (at least in Tokyo) this is true. They make their dashi soup from scratch every morning and bake their own bread. Once every 6 months they have a day when family members can try eating the food. It's really quite good and the menu was quite varied and different than what my wife experienced. Even my Japanese wife's parents were quite impressed.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Meh, we get a very high ranking for child health from UNICEF, based on lots of different factors and something truly worthy of celebration, and then it's handed over to a Japanese person to attribute it all to school lunches without asking anyone who wrote the UNICEF report. The rest of the article forgets about UNICEF and just talks about the lunches. Not sports, genetics, food standards, poverty levels, just school lunches.

Kids lunches are generally good in Japan. Whether they are world-leading or not, I couldn't tell you, but they are better than the UK and USA, where post Thatcher/Reagan, every penny spent on social programs is seen as wasted. School lunches in France, Italy, Mexico, South Africa, etc. could be amazing too, I couldn't tell you. I bet half the people praising Japanese school lunches couldn't tell you either. They are just stuck in the "aren't we amazing!" bubble.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

Well done Japan!

While I'm all for personal freedom of choice being better than the government telling us what to do, young school kids won't make healthy food choices by themselves and so need their diets decided by either the school or by their parents.

Keep up the good work Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

When I was teaching at a J high school I had to pay for lunch vouchers, I used one and was horrified at the disgusting mess I was served. I returned the vouchers immediately saying give them to a deserving family. School couldn't do that, made too much sence for their puny brains. So the vouchers went the same way as the food should have...in the bin. It's all well and good to serve nutrients, could at least make it palitable. So school foods in Japan are among the best UNISCO should be alerted. Disgusting foods are normal for those unused to taste.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

very low obesity rates

Japan does indeed have the lowest obesity rate in the OECD

.....as measured by BMI.

Yet Japan is on par with other OECD countries in terms of obesity-related disorders like diabetes and heart problems. Go figure.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

You are incorrect, they cater to those kids with allergies, pls get your FACTS, "about your friends kids" correct.

So you are going to sit here and tell me that the girl who was in my daughters grade for 6 years and never ate one school lunch there is a figment of my imagination?

Did I say they dont cater to allergies? No. And believe me I know quite a bit about compulsory education here and what is "mandatory" and what isnt.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Still, even Japan has not escaped entirely the growing trend toward overweight children and childhood obesity, which in Japan, like elsewhere, tends to affect those from less wealthy families.

Don't worry Japan, we're all in this together. It's the lifestyle people are living right now is the problem

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A good example for all countries to follow to improve the health of all children.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I respect healthy, and nutritious meals, but if these all at the expense of the taste of my food then am always very unimpressed. I will paint to you a picture of what soup bowl contains in these schools: Carrots, Onion, radish, spinach, tofu chunks, sea weeds, and the fermented broth. All these are mixed together. Nutritionally maybe i can't argue the value. Taste wise, the worst you wanna have for your lunch. Also to make things worse most schools to do not have Kitchen facilities of their own, so the food is cooked at some Lunch Center, and transported to Schools, so by the time it's served it's already Cold. So imagine drinking fermented broth soup, and it's already cold, stcky cold dry rice etc.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

If the best example of an exception is something like this, most people will say they are mandatory. Mandatory to most people implies the lack of voluntariness, not that there might absolute no exceptions.

It's just one example, however the problem is when people here hear "mandatory" they automatically think there is no choice and accept the decisions made without question.

It's a part of becoming one of the "sheeples" later in life.

"Mandatory" also implies "absolute" to far too many people

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

I work in a school and can't eat the school lunches because of allergies/I tolerances. But my colleagues do not like school lunch. It's mass produced food, made in a school lunch centre for seven schools, which is roughly 2000 kids and a couple hundred staff. The meat and veg are often overcooked, the bread is dry, and the adults usually struggle to finish it.

To contrast with my own experiences, I went to school in the UK when the Jamie Oliver rules were beginning to be implemented. We had an on site cafeteria, with fresh healthy food prepared on site on the day.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Japanese School Lunches: 34 Day Menu

https://www.domodaruma.com/blog/japanese-school-lunches-34-day-menu

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I’ve heard some combinations are pretty strange, like white rice and bread served together (why?!!!), so I wouldn’t call kyushoku “balanced”. I’ve heard the quality varies greatly between cities however. To have a look at what kyushoku can be like, have a look at this blog:

https://brewjabes.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/the-magic-of-kyushoku-or-how-i-learned-to-love-the-sodium-bomb/#respond

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I once asked my granddaughter, now 12, what her favorite class at school was. Without hesitation, she said lunch.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

We had balanced and quite good school lunches in England when I was growing up until high school, from then it was just the cafeteria with burgers, chips, beans, turkey drummers etc every day.....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We had balanced and quite good school lunches in England when I was growing up

Me too, basic but good British grub (meat & two veg, and a pudding with custard) all the way up to the end of high school (we called it grammar school in them days)

Then I went to university and the Hall of Residence served us exotic stuff for dinner - curry, spaghetti, fried rice, fresh fruit for dessert. That was wen I become cosmopolitan.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

 work in a school and can't eat the school lunches because of allergies/I tolerances. But my colleagues do not like school lunch. It's mass produced food, made in a school lunch centre for seven schools, which is roughly 2000 kids and a couple hundred staff. The meat and veg are often overcooked, the bread is dry, and the adults usually struggle to finish it.

It's not mandatory for teachers either, and yet the overwhelming majority pay the monthly fees and eat it, more out of convenience than anything else.

Down here the price is different for ES and JHS and ES HRT's have to eat with the kids in the class, so they get smaller portions than teacher who are not HRT's and are served from the "staff" room lunches.

HRT's are STRONGLY encouraged (meaning forced) to eating the school lunches, even though many do not want to, because they are NOT always healthy nor balanced.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well there are countries where you walk out of school just after noon, at least it was custom in the some of themost advanced places.

So I was send to school with a 10 am “butterbrot” and no govt mingled in my afternoon upbringing. And no parents ether.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Interesting, of all the problems with schools here, lunch is one of the things they do right. I can only speak for the schools my kids attended and a couple other, but the food is reasonably healthy and balanced - especially compared to the meals I see in North America.

The schools I have seen prepare the food on-site, so I can't comment on the places described above that have the food brought in.

I do find that people have very strong (and very odd) opinions about diet. Bizarrely, it's as touchy an area as religion and politics among many.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Once upon a time in the UK, we had such a thing...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've worked in Japanese elementary schools and while these lunches are deemed nutritious, they tend to be tasteless and boring (rice almost everyday or some gross slimy vegetable) and its just not enough for most teachers. You also have to wait 20-30 minutes for the kids to serve the lunch. You end up having to stand there watching them serve equal portions to all their classmates. I had to eat this crap because as a homeroom teacher, I had to supervise and sit with the students while they ate and so you can't really be eating your bowl of delicious pasta salad or left over pizza everyday with a bunch of jealous kids watching. It also wasn't permitted for teachers to bring their own lunch unless they had some kind of medical reason. I'm glad those days are over.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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