Meal Structure

Japanese meals are based around the ichijusansai structure, described as "one-soup, three dishes."  Not counted but always served with these are rice and konomono, pickled vegetables. The school lunch menu takes its cue from this traditional structure, using three main pillars:


Simply put, the main staple is the carbhobydrates that help power the meal. This can include noodles, rice, and bread/grains. Unlike European cultures, the potato is considered a "vegetable" and is not eaten as the main portion of the meal.


The main dish is created, usually, to be eaten in tandem with the main staple. This is where the protein comes in, and in traditional Japanese cooking that means tofu, seaweed or fish. Nowadays other sources of meat are also regularly included. Unlike traditional archetypes of Western meals, in Japan the meat component is not equal in size to the staple.


This is usually a vegetable-based dish, which could include soup, sauteed, fresh or boiled vegetables. Variations are endless.


School lunch is made to incorporate a requisite amount of calories (energy), protein, carbohydrates, fats, calcium, iron, and other essential vitamins. How the nutritionists and school cooks choose to incorporate these components is up to their discretion. However, in general, the meal follows to typical prototypes which vary (basically) on their choice of carbohydrates. 


"Japanese" Menu

A: Milk (beverage). A constant with every meal. It's inclusion is to promote healthy (bone) growth in children.

B: Rice. Japan did not start serving rice in schools until 1976. Prior to that bread was the carbohydrate of choice--a residual influence from the American occupation. Now, many schools around the country are promoting increased rice consumption as a way to use excess rice production, as well as ensure that future generations of Japanese gain an appreciation for their traditional diet. 

C: Protein and vegetable side dishes. 

D: Soup (usually a miso based soup if the carbohydrate is rice). 


"Western" Menu

A: Milk (beverage). A constant with every meal. It's inclusion is to promote healthy (bone) growth in children.

B: Bread. Japanese began serving bread at school lunch in the years following World War II. The Occupied Forces believed bread provided a sustainable source of nutrients (the United States helped to offset Japan's wheat and grain deficiency). Many Baby Boomers were raised on Western-style bread in school--and it is still served roughly two times during the week.  

C: Dessert. Usually a piece of fruit, or sometimes a pudding cup.  

D: Oftentimes thick stews, beans, curries--based off of Western or foreign style recipes. 

Kyushoku Gallery

Below are pictures of real-life school lunches from Japan. 



Beginning in 2010, schools had to include at least 30% locally produced/sourced products. For a country that imports roughly 60% of its food, that is a tall order. Dating from 2007,  below is the breakdown of the average amount of locally sourced products schools in Japan were able to include in their meals. 

2007      2008       2009       2010       2011       2012      2013

23.3%        23.4%          26.1%           25.0%         25.7%          25.1%         25.8%

Prefectures Achieving 30% +: Hokkaido, Aomori, Akita, Ibaraki, Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Nagano, Shiga, Shizuoka, Tottori, Shimane, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kanagawa, Aichi, Kochi, Saga, Oita, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, Nagasaki