Guest Blogger: Triangular Eating in Japan

 
A reader named Yuki contacted me about writing a guest blog about Japanese school lunches. I emailed her back to say that we had already covered that in a previous post written by an American in Japan. Yuki told me she wanted to share something uniquely Japanese: triangular eating or sankaku-tabe. Triangular eating is something I never heard of before and I think it is a very powerful way of teaching kids how to eat balanced meals.

Hello, from Japan!

I’m a Japanese girl who used to work as an Au pair (live-in Nanny) in America for 2 years. Before that, I helped in a kitchen at a preschool in Japan for a few months. Right now, I am working as a chef and am thinking about what I can do for American kids.

                                   Bento Lunch (adult-sized portion)

I’m not a nutritionist, but I ate Japanese school lunch for about 20 years; since the age of 4. I’m thankful for what I ate during my school lunches!


Please know I really enjoy American food! It’s fun to explore other food cultures. But, there were some things that shocked me about American kids eating habits. So, I understand nothing can change magically. We just have to make changes little by little. Anyway, this is time to introduce something from Japan.

Triangular Eating (sankaku-tabe)

(ex.) Main dish → Rice or Bread or Pasta →Soup →Main dish → Rice or Bread or Pasta → Soup….

In Japan, we usually learn how to eat food in triangular patterns when we were little kids. We usually learn it preschool age to elementary school age. When we start school lunch, it is the time to learn how to eat. It is kind of Japanese food culture, so teacher don’t go too strict nowadays. Kids don’t have to eat in triangular way, but many Japanese do triangular eating because we learn when school lunch time.


I would like to tell about the triangular way of eating. So, you have to make sure it is in triangular order. This is good practice in learning know how to eat a balanced meal by yourself. I think you can arrange this as square, pentagon and so on. Please go ahead add a salad or a side dish. As time goes by, if I have meat or fish, I automatically want to eat rice, then I start to want to eat vegetables. Isn’t it nice?

Also, triangular way could be give you rhythm and let your mouth reset. You can imagine wine and cheese. It is work well for harmony too.





I’ve been thinking if I could have a chance to work for an American school lunch program, I could make great improvements! Hopefully, this post could be small “donation” for lovely, American kids from me. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to express my ideas and thanks for reading!


Please come visit my blog, SayYummy! http://wasyoku.blogspot.com/, or my twitter http://twitter.com/tubukoDX I will be writing about Japanese food and culture! Yuki


Day 72: pasta

Today’s menu: pasta with meat sauce, breadstick, orange, broccoli, milk

Doesn’t this meal just make you happy? Or is it just me? I like the pasta and then a real veggie and fruit!?

Is someone reading this blog and then planning these meals? If so, thank you. And “Hi.” This feels a little awkward.

***

Someone asked me if my favorite lunches (pasta, tex-mex, chili) are the kids’ favorite lunches. No. Most kids like pizza, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets. They toss the veggies. And some kids toss everything. So I believe that “catering” to kids’ supposed “favorites” is a huge mistake. They don’t know what is good for them and really they don’t know what they like since they have had less years of experience eating than us.

For example, me and tomatoes. I hated tomatoes my entire life. Then when I turned 25 I realized that if I didn’t eat tomatoes on a sandwich at lunch that then I missed out on eating a veggie at lunch. So I forced myself to eat tomatoes and now officially I eat tomatoes. Sometimes I like them (I’ve always loved pasta sauce, ketchup, salsa), but eating them alone is still a challenge for me. What I’m trying to say is that no one should remove “tomatoes” from a menu just to cater to that old me. I wonder if someone had explained the health benefits of tomatoes to me earlier that I would have been more inclined to eat them when I was younger.

It’s best for us to offer healthy food and instruct kids on what they should eat and how it should be prepared. A few readers suggest that parents should be doing that at home. I agree. But what about parents who have no idea how to cook with fresh food? You know, there are parents who think that it is cheaper to go to Mc*Donald’s and spend $10-15 for dinner versus going to the grocery store and spending $50-$75 on food that could last them for days. Let’s face it, most Americans don’t know how to shop or how to cook. Home economics has been sliced out of education and that precious instruction is not happening at home (at least not in many households). Where are people going to learn about food and how to cook if not in school at a young age?

***

Thanks for your cute comments on Mr. Q’s viewpoint. He had fun answering the questions and said they really made him think. He is a pretty terrific guy and I’m grateful every single day that I took that art class in college where we met. Since we are both not artists, I think it was fate 🙂

Q and A with Mr. Q

Mr. Q has agreed to answer some questions. You asked ’em and here are your answers! Mr. Q: Some questions have been edited for grammar or clarity only 🙂

Q: Do you agree with what Mrs. Q is doing? Were you worried when she started her mission that she could or would get in trouble? 

Do you worry about your wife’s health in conjunction with this project? How difficult would it be for your family, financially, if she were to lose her job over this? Do you two ever argue about the risks she’s taken with her health and the family’s income?

A: I don’t think my approval was really much of an issue.  As I see it, my wife is an adult and it is well within her personal freedoms to keep a blog.  The only thing I have really emphasized, from the start, is that I wanted her to have fun with it.  If it gets to the point where she is not having fun with it or it is causing her undue stress, I have told her that I want her to stop.  Life is too short to be miserable in your spare time.

I’ve actually been much less concerned about Mrs. Q losing her job than she has.  The way I see it, the public schools have enough students, enough schools, and so little in the way of resources (human and monetary), that I can’t imagine that they’d spend the time to figure out who she is.  Unless, she slips up in some outlandish fashion, I believe she’ll be fine—Sure, a government intelligence agent could hack into your online profile and discover your identity, but if you have someone that skilled and dedicated tracking you down, then you’ve done something far, far worse than running a blog.

Even if the school tried to fire her, I believe it would prove more emotionally upsetting than financially damaging.  Here is why:

  • She is exercising her freedom of speech and there is nothing personally defaming about anything that she has written.
  • We do not believe she is violating any written school rule (we checked)
  • The teachers are unionized—have you every tried firing someone from a union?  I believe that doing so would ultimately be very costly for the school system, which has limited funds to begin with. 
  • The school would never win in the court of public opinion.  It would be a public relations nightmare to fire my wife—much more damning than some pictures of food on a website.
  • She would receive unemployment benefits, so her net income would not drop to zero, in any event. 
  • I am fully confident that with her professional skill set, Mrs. Q would be able to find another job, even in the current job market.  

That said, I think being anonymous still has its merits.  For one, I worry less about crazy people on the internet.  Secondly, it’s actually a courtesy to her school and school district to stay anonymous, because it means they get to stay anonymous as well and, presumably, it gives them time free of scrutiny to make changes, if they choose to do so.


Q: Mr.Q, how’s life? 

A: Good.  Stressful. Fun.  I worry about the economy a lot, but I’m grateful for my job.  “Perfect” is hard to come by for the middle class, but I’ve got a loving a supportive wife, an awesome family and dog to greet me when I come home from work.  I’m doing alright.


Q: I’d like Mr. Q to tell us about the lunches at his work place. Does your work place have a contract food provider? If so, how similar or different are your workplace offerings to those at Mrs. Q’s school? Are there truly healthy options, or is there a great deal of pre-cooked, processed or packaged foods?

A: I work in an office building that does not have a contracted food provider, unless you include vending machines, which are all full of soda and junk food.  Once there was a machine that had prepackaged sandwiches, but I don’t think anyone was every crazy enough to eat that stuff, so they took it away (coincidentally, those prepackages PB&J sandwiches that they serve at my wife’s school sound a lot like what that vending machine had).  I don’t eat from the vending machines more than once every couple of years, though, and I don’t drink soda.

Luckily, my office is in close proximity to an area with a good selection of restaurants.  So, if I don’t have time to bring food in (leftovers or frozen meals, etc.) to eat in the kitchenette, then I can go out and grab something to eat nearby.  It’s worth noting, a typical meal out will average around $7 (with tax and tip), which is considerably more than the price of a school lunch.

Health-wise, I can choose to be as healthy or unhealthy as I want.  Contrary to what some of Mrs. Q’s detractors have guessed, we are not vegetarians, and one of my favorite indulgent lunches out is a double or triple cheeseburger and a milkshake.  On the one hand, it may not be the healthiest meal, but it is cooked from fresh ground beef (organic, free range, grass fed beef is an option) right in front of me and I don’t go there more than once a month.

Q: What do you think about, “Fed Up With Lunch”?
What’s it like being married to a full-time blogger?
What has life been like while adjusting to Mrs. Q’s new found “celebrity” (albeit, anonymous celebrity) via this project?

A: I don’t really pay much attention to it.  Internet celebrity is something I don’t fully understand.  Don’t get me wrong, I know how to use a computer and all that, but I’ve never gotten into the social media thing.  I check my neglected Facebook account every few months and I don’t read any blogs, not even “Fed Up With Lunch” (much to Mrs. Q’s consternation)!  I primarily use the internet for news, sports scores, and buying boring stuff like dog food.  

In any case, Mrs. Q does a great job of being my partner and a mother, so I give her whatever space she needs.  Wouldn’t it be silly for her to get annoyed with me, if I enjoyed spending my hard-earned free time, each night, with a model train set?  They only concerns I have had has been that she be judicious with what personal information is made publicly available about our family.

Q: Does Mrs. Q complain about the school food a lot @ home? 

A: For the most part, she internalizes it through her blog (or would that be externalizing?), though she’ll mention the lunches off-handedly sometimes.  We talk a lot more about the children she works with and their educational needs or the occasional curmudgeonly coworker.

In some ways, there wouldn’t be much to say, because we’re already “on the same page” when it comes to most nutrition issues.  We are more likely to have differences on how to bring about a given change to school lunches, than as to whether or not that change is needed.

Q: What was lunch like when you were in school? Did you have a hot lunch program, and was it any better than what the kids get today?

A: The school system I grew up in provided hot lunches, but that was many years ago in a different part of the country than I currently reside.  I can’t compare it to the current state of school lunches, because I haven’t had a school lunch since the 10th grade, when I got a cheese-steak sub (kind of like Steak-ums) and threw up.  I made a go of being a vegetarian after that, but it only lasted a few years…  Anyway, some of the items I recall were the square pizzas, tater tots, etc.  My favorite lunch was the veal cutlet sub.  In high school, they had a snack bar, in addition to the hot lunch lines, where you find all sorts of high-culinary delights, such as Suzy Q’s, Honey Buns, and Andy Capp Pub Fries.  And while I must admit that I spent a lot of lunch money at that snack bar, at least I didn’t have to worry about getting sick.  Oddly, the middle school had a salad bar, which I really liked, but it never made it to the high school.

Q: I am a wife supporting a husband/teacher who is for change in school systems. Do you ever feel like it’s an uphill battle with landslides, like I do? Maybe not, but sometimes I wonder if people really want what’s good for kids in the school system! Thanks for supporting Mrs. Q! I love reading her work!

A: You’ve posed, I think, a rather open-ended question that is essentially asking me if the administrators of the school lunch program care, if the people around the students within the school system care, and if the general public, outside of the school system care about kids.  The answer is: it depends. 

I am often skeptical of the intentions that government and corporate interests have, with regard to public well-being.  Like an economist, I believe that most people or organizations will work to achieve what is in their best interest at the lowest cost.  Of course, the terms, “best interest” and “cost” are highly subjective. 

The American public school system is so large, that one should expect a great deal of difficulty in trying to implement sweeping changes.  There are all sorts of misguided rules & regulations, bureaucracies, and well financed corporate interests to deal with—much as you’d get in trying to change health care or Social Security.  

I think that people, in general, care about kids.  It’s just that we live in a highly structured society, which can make it very difficult to find consensus on anything but the most urgent issue (such as whether or not to invade Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks in 2001).  The only way to gain consensus is through dissemination of relevant information, such as what children are actually eating in school (see Fed Up With Lunch).  There are a lot of problems in this country, including childhood nutrition, that suffer because of lack of transparency in governing organizations (who makes the rules for what kids should be eating?) and a dearth of factual information (without subsidies, are foods with less chemical additives really more expensive?).

With that said, I think that most administrators are focused on dollar costs, most rank-and-file teachers feel overworked and marginalized, and most students and parents just don’t understand nutrition.  The trick is to frame issues and arguments in terms that each group can relate to.  Lawmakers must change misguided regulations and subsidies and be 100% transparent and up-front as to who has donated money to them or employed a family member.  Administrators need to consider the societal cost of poor nutrition as part of the total bill.  Teachers should be exploited as the gigantic network that they are for disseminating information and feeding back results of policy changes.  Basic nutrition should be taught as part of each child’s education—and not as just a boring class that you take once and forget.  Make it a topic of books to be read for English or history, cater basic math curriculum to, say, the counting of calories.  

The following is the most popular of all the questions:
Q: Have you noticed a change in Mrs. Q’s mood and attention span since she started eating school lunch everyday? Research shows that eating a healthy, well balanced diet improves concentration and mood. So, does one meal a day change things drastically?
What changes have you noticed in your wife since she began this project, both physically and emotionally?
Have you noticed a difference in how Mrs. Q acts since she started this project? Also, how do the lunches that Mrs. Q posts about compare to the lunches you had when you were in school?
What are some of the biggest changes that you have noticed in Mrs. Q (behavioral, physical, or mental)?
What changes have you noticed in Mrs. Q?  For example, in the movie, Supersize Me, they asked the vegan girlfriend about any noticeable changes in her boyfriend.  She said something like, “he smells like fast food, his skin feels different and he is lazy in bed”.  In your case, I would expect more things like, “she is cranky and demands food when she comes home from work”.

A: The truth is: I haven’t noticed much of a difference.  Whereas Morgan Spurlock ate McDonald’s food exclusively, Mrs. Q only eats one school meal per day.  Fans of “Supersize Me” may recall Mr. Spurlock’s liver problems near the end of the movie, so you can imagine that I would never let my wife do such a thing.  Besides, that was never her goal; she wasn’t looking to see how damaging the lunches could be, she was trying to create an awareness of what is being served.

Fortunately, the food we have to eat in our household is good, so school lunches are not necessarily the “best” meal of the day for Mrs. Q, the way it might be for students from low-income families.  The other two meals of the day can be balanced to make up for any deficiencies she feels she is subject to at school.
I think that it makes a big difference that she is an adult.  Not only are her caloric needs different from a developing child, but the food she eats is probably not being used in the same way.  Adults also have a higher awareness of their bodies that generally afford them more emotional stability (for lack of a better word).  For example, if I am hungry and my boss needs something done ASAP, I’ll focus and get it done; I have an awareness of my objective and the consequences if I’m not successful.  On the other hand, if a two year old is hungry and you need him or her to wait or do something else, you will probably get nothing but whining and crying, because they cannot conceptualize consequences.  These are extremes, but I would make an educated guess that the younger the student, the greater the impact of proper/improper nutrition.  A young student who is hungry may not have the maturity to focus on learning and they may not understand that the consequence of eating excessively sugary foods will make them sluggish in short time.


Q: Mr. Q, I have a few questions:
1. Do you help make school lunch for your child? (I believe this child is school age? I can’t remember.) Mrs. Q edited my response out.

2. Because it seems you are in a listener’s role rather than participating yourself, have you been able to see ways that make sense to you to improve school lunch? See elsewhere
3. As a father and husband, what do you think other husbands and fathers could do to help their children want to eat more healthy and even learn how to prepare healthy food themselves?

A: “Improving school lunch” could mean all sorts of things.  The idea of serving, say, fresh food every day is great, but there are a lot of hurdles.  Aside from potential money issues, which I believe can be misleading (as in, applied to the proper economy of scale or with subsidies currently granted to unhealthy food, I don’t believe there is a money problem), I see a problem with infrastructure and delivery systems.

Take for example, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (JOFR).  He ran into all sorts of problems in a small town with something like 25 schools.  How would you implement these changes in New York City.  Say there are 1 million school aged children in the NYC metro area (a reasonable estimate, since there are something like 8 million people in the metro area).  

How much fresh food is needed to feed 1 million people daily and where will it come from?  Suppose 1 cow can feed 1 thousand kids, where can you find a free range organic farm that can provide 1 thousand head of cattle per day?  I think that changing the school lunch program nationally will take years and require big changes across many industries.  A good introduction to some of these challenges may be found in the excellent 2009 book, “Just Food”, by James E. McWilliams.

In addition to some of the ideas posted in response to the last question (above), the fastest, easiest, and most cost effective way to attempt change is to simply disseminate honest information.  If you can get the word out that the food being served is not healthy and that it may harm children, then it will be easier to get the voting public on your side and willing to support change.  You have to keep a practical mindset about it, though.  An average person won’t listen to someone who they think is a vegan or who insists that all food must be grown by local organic farmers.  Chicken nuggets aren’t necessarily bad, you know; you could simply have frozen whole chicken chunks with real breading, instead of something with 60 ingredients.

I’m not sure if American industry would have to become more agrarian.  It seems logical that the easiest way to have fresher food is to have that food produced closer to where it will be used.  On the other hand, existing delivery systems may already be sufficient.  As we learned from JOFR, the problem was what was made available, not so much how to get it delivered.

It can be a tricky thing to get a kid to want to eat a specific food.  We have a young family, so rationalization isn’t normally an option, and that doesn’t leave me as much of an authority on how to shape the eating habits of a 10 year old.  I have no outside social pressures to deal with, so keep that in mind as you read the rest of this answer.

For babies and toddlers, you can shape what they eat, because they have absolutely little or no idea what the alternatives are.  I would recommend figuring out which fruit or vegetable baby food they like out of jars and going hard with that once they transition to regular table food.  Try lots of different foods to get them used to the idea of variety.  Just don’t get discouraged if they don’t take to something right away; kids can take a few tastes to get used to something new.  Get excited about healthy foods; they will take emotional clues from you and learn to get excited, too.  Above all else, you must be willing to eat healthy foods, yourself.  Imagine smoking: you are constantly coughing and your house reeks and you’re telling your kids they should never do it.  Unless you eat healthy (at least in their presence—no harm in sneaking chocolate when they’re asleep, eh?), they will not want to eat healthy; they will want to eat whatever you are eating.  

If you want a child to gain an interest in cooking—or anything for that matter—they need to be exposed to it.  If you go out to eat a lot or just microwave stuff, how could they ever come to think of cooking as fun and engaging?  Take your child grocery shopping with you.  Have your child in the kitchen while you prepare food.  Remember Tom Sawyer and the fence?  Make cooking out to be a lot of fun.  Have them watch, if they are babies or toddlers—we sometimes put our son in his high chair so he can see what we are doing on the stove and in the sink and he loves it (I generally find that my son enjoys watching us do work or any kind, especially if he can’t do it himself).  I try to teach him that being in the kitchen is something special by moving him to another room that is separated by a baby gate if he misbehaves (kind of like time out).  If your child is older, they can help you with progressively harder tasks. 

Q: Mr. Q: How is your wife as a cook? 

A: I think she does a good job and I often like her cooking more than she does.  Of course, she may not cook like my mom, but then my mom came from a generation where women were expected to stay at home and cook, so we need to keep things in perspective.  Mrs. Q cooks a lot of fresh foods and has been a lot more disciplined about making sure meals are healthy and balanced since she became a mom.


On the other hand, I am a human garbage disposal.  I always clean every last bit off my plate and prefer to fill up on meal food, rather than save space for dessert.  I enjoy trying new foods and regularly consume a wide variety of cuisines, so I’m not exactly the toughest customer to cook for.

Q: How did you two meet and what was the first thing you noticed about Mrs. Q?

A: We met in a college art class.  I was taking it, in part, to meet women and Mrs. Q was taking the class at the urging of her mother, who has a Master’s in Art.

I noticed Mrs. Q the first day, because she came in late (being really cute didn’t hurt).  I stuck by my friend T, who had randomly signed up for the class as well, for the first few weeks, to help me strike up conversations with some of the other coeds (since women feel more at ease around a guy if they see there is already another woman around him—the implication being that he surely cannot be that dangerous, rude, or smelly). 

I’d say that Mrs. Q and I became friends for 3 months or so before we started dating.

Q: Okay Mr. Q….actually, scrap that. I’m fairly certain that Mrs. Q is all there is and that Mr. Q is just a character of Mrs. Q that she will use to reveal her dark side. So, Mr. Q: Do you like being imaginary? 

A: It has tremendous advantages, actually.  For example, when you get stuck in traffic, all you can do is search the dial for lame 80’s songs.  I, on the other hand, never have that problem, because I can fly.  But what if you want to listen to lame 80’s songs, you ask?  Well, while I’m certainly not above listening to the occasional Eddie Money, I prefer conversing, telepathically, of course, with my Q’almathian friends from the Kingdom of Zorb.  I haven’t teleported back there in years and I always feel like I’m missing out.

Day 71: salisbury steak

Today’s menu: salisbury steak, bread, corn, apple, milk

I can eat this stuff fast now. I can wipe the butter on the bread without a knife and gobble it down (kids get two slices). I can shovel corn and chomp an apple. The “steak” is not my fave, but I can eat it right up.

***

Classical piano music was playing in a room. I looked out the window and saw kids running around outside. It was gym class. Seeing kids moving, laughing, jumping, smiling. A glimpse of happiness from a letterbox film. Being in fresh air, feeling the wind in your hair, seeing your friend do something silly. There’s nothing like getting to be a kid, once a week.

Guest Blogger: Non-profit Recess Company

My name is Jill Vialet and I’m the founder of Playworks (http://www.playworks.org/), a national non-profit that focuses on making recess a great part of the school day.  We do this by both sending our Recess Coaches into low income elementary schools and by offering training to other grown-ups who work with kids on our approach to making recess a time when kids get to play and be physically active and that enhances the school climate – making it easier for teachers to teach and students to learn.  I think we’re a little like WD40 for school climate.

Playworks is in the midst of opening in 6 new cities and we’re in the thick of our Recess Rollout season – basically when Playworks coaches from other cities travel to a new city to model our program at 7-8 low income elementary schools so that principals and other members of the community can really get the flavor – imagine a do-gooder version of MTV’s the Real World. 
We were in Denver a couple of weeks ago, and I got this note from the assistant principal at the school about their experience with Coach Ann (our Playworks staffer based at their school for the week) – it said “I just wanted to send this along to you – a 4th grade student who rarely gets involved in recess activity and is known to be a wallflower came to my office with this note and a huge smile on her face. High five for the work you guys are doing, here at AXL this week with Coach Ann, but also on a daily basis across the country. Coach Ann has been an incredible addition to the team (literally she feels like part of the staff and its only been a few days) and the kids are raving about her. “
So here’s the note from Jasmine, the 4th grader, entitled We heart Coach Ann (it had typos, but I edited). 
Dear Ms. Miller,
Our class likes Coach Ann for many reasons.  First, she is nice and has many creative ideas to keep kids healthy. Also, she is respectful to students and loves to have fun. Finally, she plays games where people don’t fight and makes sure there is no drama.  Well, these are many reasons why our school should have Coach Ann or people like her for our school.
Sincerely, Jasmine
PS  Thank you for having Coach Ann here at school.
And Jasmine attached a really cool sticker.
I’ve never met Coach Ann – she’s based in our Silicon Valley office, and this is her first year with us.  I’m not a big crier – but when I got this, I teared up. Here was this young woman, off in a strange city who completely owns – as her own-  this vision I originally had of making it possible for every kid in America to get to play every day.  And in turn, she’s inspiring Jasmine to step up and advocate for something she wants and believes in. 
We feel really lucky to get to work with teachers and lunch ladies and families and principals all over the country.  We are excited about the idea of recess before lunch.  And maybe most importantly, we are hopeful that giving kids like Jasmine a chance to play every day is the best hope we have for building an engaged citizenry that stands up for things like great education and a yummy, healthy school lunch program.
twitter: @jillvialet
twitter: @playworksusa

*** Thanks Jill for contributing a guest post. I am particularly interested in Playworks as my school has no recess. Who knows, maybe we can work something out for the future! ***

Titanium Spork Award – April

And the winner is…. Jamie Oliver

The poll results:

1) Jamie Oliver — 521 votes (55%)

2) Ed Bruske from The Slow Cook — 174 (18%)

3) Michelle Obama — 111 (11%)

I agree that Jamie Oliver deserves a titanium spork because he has elevated the school lunch discussion to the national level through his show Food Revolution. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the show, you can catch up on episodes on hulu.com. He accepted a TED award in February and explained his philosophy: (check out his TED speech). I’ll find a way to send it to him and hopefully he can take a quick pic with the spork that I could post to the blog!

Thanks so much for voting in the poll! I’m giving away a spork in each of the following months: April, May and June. I’ll put up May’s poll in a couple weeks.

Ed, maybe you’ll win next month! And I adore the First Lady, but I’m happy that she didn’t win because I don’t feel comfortable sending a titanium spork to the White House!