In Japan, nutrition is key in the planning and devising of the daily lunches. Although there are many constants to the type of food served - a certain amount of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and more - many school nutritionists and lunch staff develop in-depth charts and information which lays out just how each type of food contributes to physical development. Weekly meals have ideally been devised so that throughout the week students receive the requisite amount of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins necessary to promote healthy physical development. For example, on Monday, and Wednesday there may not be iron rich meals, but the menu on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday make up for the deficit, ensuring that children receive balanced nutrient levels.
Below is a translation of the weekly meal line up for the first two weeks of March 2016 from the Kamogawa School Middle School in Matsuyama City. The original can be found here.
Sample School Lunch Menu:
Below are the nutritional standards set by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology. School Lunch should provide the following:
Provide 35% of a child's daily energy
Provide 40% of a child's daily protein
Provide 30% of a child's daily fat
Provide 55% of a child's daily calcium
Provide 33-35% of a child's daily iron
Provide 50-55% of a child's daily vitamins
Provide an adequate amount of a child's daily sodium
So, what does this look like on your plate? To the right is an example of lunch from June 8, 2015 from the Nasushiobara School District. It includes milk, rice (bottom left), crunchy herring strips, burdock root and seaweed salad, and mountain yam miso soup.
In total this meal contains:
34 grams of protein
28.6 grams of fat
3.1 grams of salt
Colorful Food Groups
Akin to the United States Food Pyramid, the Japanese have concocted their own way to teach children about their food. They've grouped it into three categories: red, yellow and green. Red, as you may expect, includes meats and proteins. Yellow (pictured left) includes carbs and fats. Green includes fruits and vegetables. This group of three is regularly included in the school lunch menu explanation. For example, in the meal above the breakdown was as follows:
RED: Chicken, tofu, milk, herring and seaweed
YELLOW: Rice, potato, flour, yam, and mayonnaise
GREEN: Carrots, burdock root, soybeans, Napa cabbage, cucumber, daikon, and dried mushrooms.
6 Healthy Food Groups
In addition to the above groups -red, yellow, and green- the system also breaks down nutrients and food types further. It is rarer to see ingredients labeled and organized according to these 6 food groups, but it is not uncommon. Even if only spared a perfunctory glance when children are looking at the menu board tacked up in their classroom, it does not seem unimaginable that children naturally absorb some of the information.
Proteins that fuel blood, muscle and bone production.
Includes: Meat (chicken, beef, ham, pork, sausage, etc), eggs, fish, soybeans (tofu, natto, etc.)
Calcium that builds strong teeth and bones.
Includes: Dairy, fish with bones in (sardines, smelt, sakura shrimp), seaweed.
Carotene that promotes healthy skin and mucous membrane.
Includes: vegetables high in beta-carotene (carrots, pumpkins, tomato, spinach, parsley, broccoli, etc)
Vitamin C which regulates the function of the body.
Includes: Vegetables (Cabbage, lettuce, celery, cucumber, turnip, lotus root, etc.) and fruit.
Energy building sugars.
Includes: Rice, bread, grains and cereals, noodles, and root vegetables (potatoes, yams, etc).
Energy building grease.
Includes: Oils, mayonnaise, dressings, etc.
"Triangular Eating" Method
The concept of triangular or quadrangular eating is the idea of methodically consuming equal amounts of food. The Japanese food culture particularly favors this eating method as their meals are generally served in separate bowls and consumed using chopsticks - a piece of tableware that by its very nature demands consuming food in smaller portions. By eating small, diverse amounts of each food type you can regulate a rhythm, keep check of your appetite and not overeat. Most children usually learn this practice at preschool or elementary school age.