Foods

School Lunch: The Lessons Within (Part 1)

As a teacher working at elementary schools and Junior high schools, I have to admit that lunch time is one of the things I look forward to the most in the whole day. In Japan, there are some schools where students need to bring their own lunch, but typically lunch is provided. Healthy, cheap, and (occasionally) delicious!

“Rice, meat or fish, vegetables, soup with more vegetables, and milk. A generic Japanese school lunch.”

“Rice, meat or fish, vegetables, soup with more vegetables, and milk. A generic Japanese school lunch.”

School’s lunch time is a truly magical time. Not only does it fulfill your hunger, it is also an excellent learning opportunity. Every moment is a learning moment, especially when you are in school. During lunch period, both elementary and junior high school students are trained various things at different levels. Therefore, rather than resting, teachers utilize lunch time everyday to teach some important things beyond textbook knowledge. Today, let’s discuss three of the many things that Japanese students are trained to do and understand since they enter elementary school.

1. Students learn the importance of time management:

Getting the tables ready at the beginning of lunch time. Serving food in a timely manner. Sitting down and ready for “itadakimasu” (“let’s eat!”) together. Eating and finishing on time and not waste (too much) time chatting. Cleaning up before everyone do “gochisosama-deshita” (“thanks for the meal!”)…… Everything has to be done within the 45 minutes, and believe me that it is not much. It takes about 12 minutes for preparation, 25 minutes for eating, 5 minutes for cleaning, and 3 minutes for teeth-brushing. There really isn’t time to spare. Most importantly, everyone has to do their job properly to avoid cutting into everyone’s valuable recess time.

“The cart waits outside with huge containers of food before the 4th period ends.”

“The cart waits outside with huge containers of food before the 4th period ends.”

2. Students learn how to be fair:

The students have to serve food fairly. As delicious as karaage (fried chicken) is, there is only enough for three pieces per student. When it comes to something like curry, the student serving it must eye-ball the amount evenly and make adjustments. Or else one kid might have a full bowl while another has less than half.

Another situation to consider is when there is surplus due to an absent student. Typically, the kids who want the extra food will janken (rock, paper, scissors) for it, which I heard is officially the fairest method ever invented. Personally, I have fun playing janken with my students, especially when I win the left-over pack of milk.

“On the other hand, here is how I teach them about unfairness by stealing everyone’s milk and yogurt.”

“On the other hand, here is how I teach them about unfairness by stealing everyone’s milk and yogurt.”

3. Students learn the importance of food (and to not waste it):

The students learn about the importance of nutrition from class. A kid might not like vegetables or milk, but elementary students have to eat everything. The most they can do is to return a portion to the front before the meal begins and eat less, but having none is not an option (unless you are allergic). At the jr. high school level, students might be free to share their food with the classmates who want it. However, as a whole class, no food can be wasted and it is up to the students to figure out who can deal with the left-over food.

“Also, sometimes you have no idea what you are eating. The students might not know either. You just gotta eat it.”

“Also, sometimes you have no idea what you are eating. The students might not know either. You just gotta eat it.”

The list above only includes only a few of the many things you can learn from the valuable daily lunch period. Who knew a simple meal time can be so educational? Let’s continue discovering other hidden lessons of lunch time in Japanese schools with Part 2. Stay tuned!

Guest post written by Jackson Lee.


  
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