Japanese School Lunch Act

Nutrition and Food Education in Schools

published on Oct 24, 2022 by Christine Cernera

In Japan, almost all elementary and middle schools ban students from bringing their own lunch. All students must have the same school meal in their classrooms, not in a cafeteria.

In response to public outcry because of severe food shortages and malnutrition after WWII,  the government enacted the School Meal Law which provided free lunch to all school children in Japan.

Lunch menus are provided by nutritionists to ensure that the students receive a balanced, healthy meal every day. All meals are prepared with fresh foods (not frozen or processed), contain 600 to 700 calories and include carbohydrates, meat or fish, and vegetables. 

Some schools have their own kitchen in the building. Others even have their own garden, called ‘edible schoolyard’, (originally started by Alice Waters in California in 1995) where kids grow vegetables by themselves. In my hometown, there is one big school meal center that provides lunches for 10+ schools in our township. Right before noon, the food is delivered to each school. Children in charge of serving don cook hats, aprons and masks and go pick up their food for their classmates. They serve everyone, while other children clean up afterwards. Kids take turns serving and cleaning every week.

Meanwhile, other kids get ready to eat - they prepare a placemat and chopsticks, which each child brings from home, and move their desks to enjoy their meal with their classmates, including teachers. Teachers usually sit with kids and have the same meal. Every time I had my teacher in my group, I felt special and happy.

Japanese people have great respect towards food because wasting any piece of food is deemed to be rude to the cook, farmers and everyone involved in the creation of the meal. Our family, friends, and school lunch program teach us from a young age how hard it is to grow rice and vegetables, and how eating meat or fish means a precious animal gave their life for us.

In 2008, the “School Lunch Act” originally started in the post-war era was revised to emphasize a focus on food and nutrition education, called shokuiku. They started to take it more seriously because our food culture has become more westernized and focused on convenience, which resulted in many children developing health issues such as food allergies, eating disorders, and so on. Shokuiku is expected to play a great role for kids and our food culture, and it is gradually becoming known all over the world.

For your reference:

Why Japan’s School Lunches Put Other Countries’ To Shame