School Lunch

I recently realized that I have yet to write about my schools’ lunch system, which is a shame because it’s actually pretty interesting.

In Japan, school lunch (or kyushoku) in elementary and junior high schools is very different from what most Americans are used to. There are no lunch ladies, no long lines in a cafeteria, no frozen mystery meat. Instead, lunches are usually made fresh daily at a lunch center in town and then trucked to the schools in the area. They come steaming hot about 20 or so minutes before lunch time, and the kids handle the rest. When the bell rings to signify lunch has started, a selected group of students from each homeroom puts on their hair nets, masks, and protective clothing and becomes the day’s “lunch ladies.” They head to the lunch room, pick up their utensils and various dishes, and go back to their class where their classmates are eagerly awaiting lunch.

There the kids divvy up the food for each class member and put it all on trays. The kids then eat at their desks in their own classrooms. It definitely saves on school space!

Most kids eat the provided lunch. The idea, I think, is to feed the kids carefully crafted lunches based on dietary needs of children while ensuring no one feels out of place. So no one brings a packed lunch. If someone is allergic to something in that day’s menu, the lunch center staff provides a personal alternative. All kids eat the same meal, together.

It seems a little weird maybe. They have no choice in what they eat or who they eat with. But this way, all of the kids are guaranteed a balanced meal that’s (usually) quite healthy. No one is left out in anyway.

The typical lunch consists of milk (which I never drink), rice or bread, a soup or similar dish, and a vegetable medley or salad. See, balanced. And often delicious. Most of the time there are amazing Japanese style salads with tons of veggies, but western foods also find their way in. Here are a few pictures I’ve snapped of my lunch.

Rice with a kind of egg topping and soup, fried sweet potato sticks, and nori

Rice with a kind of egg topping and soup, fried sweet potato sticks, and nori

carb load day: bread, takoyaki, udon, mikan

carb load day: bread, takoyaki, udon, mikan

rice, miso soup, grilled fish and salad

rice, miso soup, grilled fish and salad

rice, seaweed salad, boiled assortment

rice, seaweed salad, boiled assortment

My area’s center takes suggestions from the students and tries to incorporate the kids’ favorite foods into the menu. Each meal has about 700-800 calories for junior high and always has a nice variety of vegetables which I appreciate. My favorite meal is probably curry, because Japanese curry is heavenly. Although, I do wish I didn’t have to eat kyushoku because it has way too much meat for my liking (side note: I’m pretty sure I’m going back to being a vegetarian once my contract’s up…meh).

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