School lunches in Japan encourage children to eat healthy

Saras Ramiya
13 Jul 2018

School lunches inculcate healthy eating habits and appreciation for fresh foods among school children in Japan.

A typical school lunch consists of rice, milk, fish, soup, boiled vegetables and a fruit.

“School lunches [in Japan] supply well-balanced energy and nutrients,” said Professor Shigeru Yamamoto, Ph.D., director, Asian Nutrition and Food Culture Research Center, Jumonji University, Japan, at the 24th Malaysian Dietitians’ Association National Conference 2018 in Kuala Lumpur.

Of the total recommended dietary allowance (RDA) in a day, the school lunch provides 33 percent of energy, 40 percent of protein, 50 percent of calcium, 33 percent of iron, 33 percent of vitamin A, 40 percent of vitamin B1, 40 percent of vitamin B2 and 33 percent of vitamin C.

Meal planning is done by the nutrition teacher or dietitian at each school. The menu is different every day with a total of about 200 menus a year. Each menu comprises similar dishes in different combinations. Schools try to use fresh foods supplied by local producers so that they know everything about their food supply including producers, fertilizers and pesticides. Meals are prepared by kitchen staff in a hygienic manner utilizing the hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) system. “Tasty and safe foods can be given to children by these efforts,” said Yamamoto.

Monthly menus are sent to the children’s family in the previous month. Family members know what their children are eating at school, so they refrain from preparing the same dishes for dinner. This provides variation in the diet and encourages their children to eat well. Also, this information is necessary to alert family members if their children have food allergy.

Students on duty bring the food from the kitchen to their respective classes and serve it to their classmates. The whole class eats together with their teacher in the classroom. After lunch, the children clean up and put leftover foods in composting bins to make fertilizer. They are also taken on field trips to visit local farms to see the growth and harvesting of foods. They give the fertilizer to the farmers for free. This entire process is part of the children’s education, said Yamamoto.

Although school lunch is just one meal on school days, children may be influenced to eat healthy on other days, he added.

The school lunch programme participation rate is almost 100 percent in elementary schools (children aged 6-12 years old) and about 80 percent in junior high schools (children aged 12-15 years old). Each meal costs about 250 yen (about US$2.30) at elementary schools and about 300 yen (about US$2.80) at junior high schools. Children’s parents or guardians pay for the meals.

The basic law on Shokuiku or food education established in 2004 forms the basic principle for the school lunch programme. Shokuiku is defined as acquisition of knowledge about food and nutrition, as well as the ability to make appropriate food choices through various experiences related to food in order to develop people’s ability to follow a healthy diet. In addition, the law calls for promotion of Shokuiku toward a richer lifestyle based on life-long cultivation of a healthy mind in a healthy body. []

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