School lunch in Japan is a good deal!

Posted by in Mary's blog

In Japan, students eat school lunch. Every day they get a hot well balanced meal to eat while they’re at school. Rice is a staple in Japan. So much so that each meal time has rice in its name. あさごはん (“morning rice” or breakfast), ひるごはん (“noon rice” or lunch), and ばんごはん (“night rice” or dinner).  As expected rice is also an important part of school lunch.

School lunch at hoikuen

Every day at hoikuen our children eat school lunch. We are very thankful that the hoikuen provides a healthy meal for them.  It saves us from having to pack a lunch for them, and they get to try many delicious and healthy Japanese foods. The Bunny loves school lunch, but that wasn’t always the case.  When we first moved to Japan and she started at hoikuen, the food was strange to her.  She refused to eat any of it except for the rice.   Now, the Bunny eats and enjoys Japanese foods that Mike and I would never eat (although quite healthy).   When the Bunny was small, the hoikuen provided the entirety of her meal, but now that she is bigger, we provide the rice portion of  her lunch (~120g every day).  However, there are some special days throughout the month.  Rice cooking day happens about twice a month. We refer to this day as “no rice” day because we don’t need to provide rice for her on these days.  We enjoy these days except for the numerous times when we forgot and sent rice with her anyways.  Also about twice a month she has bento lunch day.  Sometimes translated as “fun lunch” day.  On bento days, parents pack a lunch for their children. A bento lunch is very different than the packed school lunches in Canada.  Many Japanese parents make cute bentos which are very much like works of art.  Our bentos aren’t…  And that’s ok.  The Bunny likes them, and that’s what matters.  Check out this Frozen themed bento:


Our Turtle has also been enjoying school lunch recently. Okayu (rice porridge) is a common first food for babies in Japan. In Japan, babies are introduced to new foods quickly. We had a large list of foods the Turtle needed to try at home first before being given them at hoikuen. Recently the Turtle’s teacher wrote in his communication book that he is beginning to love Japanese food. He loves fish.

School lunch at junior high school

As a junior high school teacher, I also get to enjoy school lunch. For ¥292 a day, I get a healthy lunch that I don’t have to prepare. Sounds like a good deal to me. Most days, my school lunch consists of a bowl of rice, soup containing vegetables, a vegetable side, some sort of fish or meat or egg, and a glass bottle of milk.  However, once a week is bread day.  On those days the rice is substituted with a large bun, and for me bread day is twice a week because I happen to go to my visiting school on their bread day which is a different day from my base school.  Also about once a month, noodles replace the rice.  Here’s an idea of what school lunch at junior high school looks like:

Sure there are days I’m not particularly excited about school lunch.  In Japan fish is a lot more common.  My general rule of thumb is if it has skin or eyes on it, I can’t bring myself to eat it.  Luckily for me, I eat lunch in the staffroom and can comfortability dispose of anything I’m not able to eat.  I’ve come to really appreciate school lunch.  I’ve had a chance to try some foods I would’t have otherwise, and sometimes I’m even brave enough to eat the fish.  Some ALTs and teachers complain about the amount of rice and the calories, but I can honestly say (aside from the time I was pregnant), I haven’t gained weight since coming to Japan.  And you can always mould your extra rice into an onigiri (rice ball) for later.  I feel pretty confident in declaring school lunch in Japan to be much more healthy than school lunch in Canada or America.  いただきます!