One of the best-known aspects of Japan is the school lunch system. Not only do the contents of the meal differ from western school lunches, but so do the philosophies and teachings behind it. For example, students take turn serving one another and everyone helps to clean up afterwards.
Generally speaking, Japanese school lunches (kyuushoku 給食 ) are served in elementary and middle schools, though it is not unheard of to see a school lunch served in high school as well.
Depending on the size of the school or the school district, school lunches are prepared either on-site at the school, or in a larger distribution center and then delivered to each school in the district. These distribution centers can also be schools that have large kitchens, and is often the case in smaller villages.
Each school district has a dietician in charge of developing the school lunch menu. While there are dietary guidelines set out by the government, there is actually a lot of freedom for the dietician when designing the meals. In rural areas, this also means getting to use a wide variety of fresh and local produce!
Meals must be approximately ⅓ of daily calorie and nutritional intake, and most meals include a main dish, rice, soup, salad dish, and milk. Nothing can be served raw, so at the very least ingredients must be blanched (quickly boiled) before serving.
Popular School Lunches
Common school lunches in Japan include a white, cream stew (similar to a thick clam chowder), spaghetti (served with the noodles cooked and heated in a plastic bag with the sauce separate and mixed by students), ramen (served similarly to the spaghetti with soup and noodles prepared separately), onigiri (rice balls), agepan (a kind of fried bread), and many more.
However, when asking both students and teachers what their favorite lunch is, the undisputed champion is often Japanese curry! Japanese curry tends to be more sweet than spicy making it more mellow and appealing to children.
Allergies and Dietary Restrictions
Depending on the school size, meals can be planned around student allergies, with every effort being made to make the lunches seem the same for each student. Everyone is served the same general meal, but colored food trays are used to denote foods for dietary restrictions. This way every student feels included while still getting nutrition they need.
In larger areas, students may also get special permission to bring their own bento or drinks.
Whether it’s on the small scale for one school, or for an entire city, Japanese school lunches are there to help students grow in body and mind!
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!