Students look forward with great expectations to a nice meal at lunch. © Kanae Nishimura, nutrition educator © Niimi School Lunch Center, Niimi City, Okayama Prefecture
Elementary and junior high school students in Japan look forward to kyushoku, which is the school lunches provided every day at school. The menu changes daily. They may have deep-fried chicken one day, hot noodles the next day, boiled fish the day after next, and so on. Every day, they can enjoy a very nice meal with classmates. Wouldn't you like to try eating like them?
Highly Nutritious and Tasty, School Lunches Are the Most Fun Times!
"Ding, dong, dang, dong." It's the chime sounding at the end of morning classes, signaling the time that students have been waiting for. It's lunchtime. Students take turns serving school lunch. The students who are on duty that day put on a white kappogi (Japanese apron) and serve meals to their classmates. Some students cry out in delight when they find a favorite dish on their plates. Then, with meals made up of the same dishes, all the students and teachers begin eating after saying, "Itadakimasu!" (expression of thanks for food).
Students in white kappogi serve the meal when lunchtime comes. © Mitsue Omori © Kodaira Sixth Elementary School, Kodaira, Tokyo
People say that schools started serving meals to students about 120 years ago, when lunches were prepared for children who were unable to bring lunch with them. School lunch programs have gradually spread since then. Many schools today provide lunch to their students.
School lunches are good in a couple of ways. First, they contain a lot of the nutrients that help children grow. Sometimes, nutritionists who plan school lunch menus come to classrooms to give explanations about nutrition. By listening, students learn the importance of a balanced nutritious diet.
Sometimes, nutritionists explain the nutrients in school lunches. © Kanae Nishimura, nutrition educator © Niimi School Lunch Center, Niimi City, Okayama Prefecture
Second, school meals are good because they taste great! The secret to the delicious flavor is the fresh ingredients, such as vegetables from local farmers. So students wait eagerly for lunchtime at school every day while wondering, "What's on today's menu?" Let's look at some school lunch menus popular among students.
Traditional Japanese Food and Curry with Rice Are Student Favorites!
School lunch menus provide variety including traditional Japanese cuisine, Western cuisine and dishes from various countries around the world. A typical school meal consists of cooked white rice, a main dish, a side dish and soup, accompanied by dessert and milk. Examples of the Japanese food that students like are grilled fish and boiled meat and vegetables. Some students say, "I love plain rice because it matches any dish."
The menu has delicious and very nutritious Japanese food, including rice, grilled fish and miso soup. © Kokubunji Junior High School, Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture © Gakko Kyushoku Koshien (School Lunch of the Year)
Curry with rice is a very popular Western food among students. Curry is originally an Indian dish and very hot. But the curry served in school lunches is mild, which Japanese children like. One student said, "On the days we have curry, everyone wants to eat more. We fill up to keep ourselves going in the afternoon classes." Also very popular for a long time are noodles, such as ramen and spaghetti, and hamburger steak.
Sweet mild curry on rice is a popular item on the menu, among students in Japan. © Kanae Nishimura, nutrition educator © Niimi School Lunch Center, Niimi City, Okayama Prefecture
Special Dessert Days: Excitedly Trying to Win Extra Helpings
The class atmosphere becomes cheerier than usual several days a year, when a special dessert is served. Sweet fruits are an example. Children love strawberries in spring, watermelon in summer, persimmon or grapes in autumn, and apples in winter. Especially in autumn, the season of harvest, students can enjoy a variety of fruits. If there are extra pieces of fruit, students compete for them by playing Janken (Japanese version of Rock-Paper-Scissors).
At other times, students get extremely excited when served sweets associated with a seasonal event. For example, Japan has an event called "Hinamatsuri" in March. It is a festival where family members pray for the growth and happiness of girls. Families with a girl display dolls and eat hishi mochi, diamond-shaped rice cakes colored red, white and green. Hishi mochi appears in school lunches too at that time. Boys without a sister have few chances to eat hishi mochi at home, so they enjoy eating the cakes as a novelty.
Hishi mochi, a diamond-shaped pastry for the Hinamatsuri festival in March, also appears in school meals. © Kanae Nishimura, nutrition educator © Niimi School Lunch Center, Niimi City, Okayama Prefecture
Some schools provide cake in a cute box right before Christmas in December. Eating this cake makes students look forward to Christmas even more.
Christmas cake is served right before Christmas in December. © Kanae Nishimura, nutrition educator © Niimi School Lunch Center, Niimi City, Okayama Prefecture
School lunches are meals for students to enjoy while chatting cheerfully with classmates. A favorite dish or seasonal dessert on the menu often sparks a conversation and a chance to make friends. What kind of school lunch attracts you the most?
Students eat school lunch while carrying on friendly conversations. © Yashirominami Elementary School, Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture