Guest blogger: An American teacher in Japan

*** Please welcome Mr. Ferguson from Japan (check out these lunch photos) ***

Hi everyone, my name is Daniel, or Daniel sensei as I’m called at school. Every day, I eat lunch with my little students at 3 nursery schools near Hiroshima, Japan, where I teach English.

Earlier this month, a little after I began to read Mrs. Q’s blog, we had a special lunch in celebration of hina matsuri, a holiday where an ancient story of a Japanese prince and princess is remembered through displaying ornamental dolls and preparing traditional food.
Our menu (from the left): white fish, aemono (cold vegetable dish) with carrots, cabbage, broccoli and sesame seeds, and strawberries,
sushi rice with carrots, broccoli, and shitake mushrooms, wrapped in egg or seaweed, representing the princess and prince,
soup made from konbu dashi (broth from seaweed) green onions, enoki mushrooms and colored rice dumplings.
I spoke with one of the cook teachers, as they are respectfully called in Japan, who came back from maternity leave to help with the cooking. She explained how the aesthetic for Japanese holiday foods is “komakai” meaning detailed and carefully made. It’s designed to be colorful, use several kinds of foods, and is all prepared by hand. For me, however, this meal was only to a greater degree more detailed than lunches usually are at school, which are always handmade and served by the children to other children, with real plates on tablecloths.
At lunch, we waited until all children, about 60 total, had been served soup, fish, and sushi before saying “itadakimasu”, a kind of secular grace said before eating in Japan, meaning thanks to those who prepared the food. The cook teachers also joined us and everyone thanked them for the meal they had been preparing all morning. Then they walked around the room responding to children saying “oishii” meaning delicious. And as they always do, the children ate everything, stacked their dishes, and put their chopsticks and cup away to be used again tomorrow.
As I watched children enjoy lunch, I thought about all the love being shared in the room that day, with nothing to compare it to in my experiences of school lunch in America. The most love I think I showed children at my previous school during lunch time was opening their packets of ketchup or dressing they got everyday to cover their meat or quarter cup serving of salad. I opened them because they weren’t made for 5-year old hands to open. In fact, little of those lunches were made with children in mind, I thought. Everyday, children threw away their tray, carton, napkin, fork, and their unwanted food into trashcans as tall as them. Everyday a lost opportunity to nourish, educate, and show our love to children.
So when I started working in Japan, I immediately noticed the difference in how children and the food they are given is valued, in and out of the lunchroom. At the nursery schools, I have picked sweet potatoes and strawberries with children. I’ve seen several cooking lessons, including soups, curries, traditional foods, hot cakes and cookies. A few days after hinamatsuri, parents were invited to the school to make sushi rice with their children, just like what they ate for lunch. 

Throughout the year, teachers turn recipes into big books that are read as part of their literacy instruction. Cause and effects of mixing batter and milk are discussed like science experiments. Every year, the 5-year olds of one school plant rice in a nearby field, cut it in the fall, then that rice is cooked in the winter and used to make mochi during an annual festival. All the while they are writing and reading about the experience as part of the curriculum. These nursery schools are not representative of all Japanese schools, but for me, it is reassuring just to know that this way of taking care and educating children does exist. I hope it is for you too.  

Daniel Ferguson


Thank you so much for your magical post, Mr. Ferguson! I just want to float over to Japan. My first thought is that it’s no wonder Japanese students beat our students at most subjects. I have a couple follow-up questions. Do you have overweight students? How much time do the kids get for lunch? Do they get recess?

Mrs. Q

NOTE: I set up guest blog posts to auto-post during the day the night before
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88 thoughts on “Guest blogger: An American teacher in Japan

  1. As someone who is also living in Hiroshima City, I have to again point out that:
    1. This is a "special day" lunch.
    Lunches served on special days (Hina Matsuri, Xmas) are a lot tastier and in general better than the everyday lunch.
    2. This is nursery school, and I would take a guess that this place is privately owned.
    In Japan, nursery school is divided into two types; one that is mostly fun with some learning and the other which is essentially a day care. Both cost parents money.

    As to school lunches in Japan, or at least Hiroshima, 🙁 is really how I can best describe them.
    My schools in the US had ok school lunches, and now they are even "better" (all you can eat fruit & salad bar!).

    Kids in Japan are taught that they must eat everything on their plate (though they may "herasu" (take some off) or put more on after they are served).
    This means that if you don't like, say, mushrooms, it doesn't matter because they pressure you to eat it.

    And yes, I am sure that many people will think that if the kids are eating mushrooms rather than potato chips it's great, but it's a very frustrating environment. There's the assumption that because a person is Japanese that they MUST like all of the same foods, and anyone who doesn't like something is met with choruses of WHY??

    A big part of the school lunch culture in Japan is cultivating a sense of "Japaneseness". And what happens is that Japanese food is deemed as "tasty", while foreign food is uniformly deemed as "disgusting".

    A typical elementary school has bread days and rice days.
    The "bread" day usually has a HUGE white bread roll or a large deep fried breadstick covered in a flavoring.
    Every meal comes with white milk.
    Cabbage is often used as a "filler", so it's in soups and anywhere else it can be placed.
    Many of the meals are what I consider the Japanese equivalent of "fast food".

    Sometimes the food is made on-site at the school, but many times it's shipped in from the "kyuushoku center".

    Every country has it's good and bad points when it comes to school lunch, but I am getting weary of seeing people hold up Japanese school lunch/bento as some type of gold standard…especially when they make sure to pick the prettiest/healthiest looking one.

    Japanese elementary schools can have tasty lunches at times, but just like my elementary school, it wasn't tasty everyday.

  2. I can sum the problem up in two words – money and time. At our school (and from most I've seen), cafeteria workers are part time employees with minimal prep time. They are expected to make and serve food quickly and do so using the least amount of money possible. One person posted that we "throw so much money at education"…really? I live in Illinois, as well. Our schools have not been sent HUNDREDS of thousands of promised money from the state. The school boards have been forced to lay off at least a third of the staff to make ends meet. We're a small school district. I hate to think how this is affecting large inner city schools. I would love for our school to receive some of the money they are supposed to have thrown at it. Until we place a higher value on children's education and are willing to pay for it, nothing is going to change. You can't teach a child the food groups and what they should be eating and then turn around and feed them chicken nuggets and fries in the school cafeteria.

  3. What a wonderful thing you are doing with this blog 🙂 I clicked on the yahoo link, too, and I'm so glad I did.

    ***I am truly thankful for public school teachers, and for all of the love and work they put into our nation's children each day.*** That said, consider this post (this entire blog, for that matter) in light of the many Americans who criticize those who homeschool their children. As a homeschooling family, we have a teacher-student ratio of 1:4, long recess hours, and nutritious, unhurried lunches gathered around the kitchen table together. Often, the children are included in the preparation of the meal. Our kids blow the average public school test scores out of the water, too, across the board. So, why is it that so many insist that I'm short-changing my children by not sending them to public school?

    At the same time, I realize that public education is of utmost importance in the U.S. and I support our local schools. I care about those students, too, not just my own. Your blog is a gutsy move, and I sincerely hope it helps open eyes and change policies.

  4. This was so interesting. I'm really interested in Japanese culture and food, and I even make Japanese-style bento lunches for myself to take to school (and I'm in college!) When I spent a few weeks in Japan, I noticed that while they do still have McDonalds and greasy fried street food, they are a little more food conscious, at least at home. I think we can learn from the Japanese model: healthy food made with love, plus fresh air will make for better equipped students, which will lead to better equipped adults!

    When I was little, my mom never let me buy school lunch. How I wanted that greasy pizza so badly! Now I realize that I was eating food of a much higher quality when I brought lunch from home.

  5. I went to public school and i would eat the school lunches till I got into the 8th grade ( which at that time they had grade schools k-6 jr high grades 7-9 and high school grades 10-12) the lunches were good and in 7th grade i moved to a different school district and the food was prepared on site so it was nutristious( spelling?) and when I moved back to the school district that i was in as a grade school student I had " hot lunch " till i was in the 10th grade when I could leave the school. I wouldn't eat the food served by the school as I seen how nastey the food looked and as far as the pizza was concerned we at one time had green pizza that was suposed to be cheese pizza.
    I later learned that it was left over pizza from the week before after that I refused to eat any food made by the school to be served at the school. I was lucky my parents ( though divorced ) both lived close enough to which ever school I was attending that I could go over to their home and let myself in and make a lunh I know would be good for me ( I have a food allergy so I have to becareful on what I ate and if I was around that food). It was nothing for me to go to my parents homes and make my lunch and then clean and leave them a note saying I was there and make it back to the school for my next class.
    Oh and we did have a recess every day 3 times a day till I was in the 8th grade and for all the grades we had physical education at least 3 days a week in grades k-7 we had physical education or health classes ( which we learned about healthy eating as well as about other health related issues ) every school day and we were made to go out and play when i was in grades k-7 even in winter and in Wisconsin the winters can be quite cold out.
    I feel for the kids at the school that "Q" teaches at as kids need exercise and that includes after lunch.

  6. I must say that I've really enjoyed reading this post, and the comments that followed.

    I would really like to mention in particular the comment by "cb". Like what "cb" has mentioned, we have become too caught up in "organic" "free-range" "grain-fed" "gluten-free" and the other labels that, in my opinion, exoticises food to a certain extent.

    And as I'm typing this, I just realized something from my own observation. There seems to be more kids in the U.S. (and I might say U.K. and Australia) that have food related allergies. (Nuts, IBS, gluten-intolerant etc). Why is this so? I'm thinking it's probably related to the diet culture of the respective countries. (But I'm no expert, so I would like to see if someone has any opinion on this.)

    And on a personal note, I don't see anything wrong with full-fat milk. I'll rather drink that than let my kid drink any type of soda (sugar free or not).

    That aside, I applaud you, Mrs Q. for having this blog. It has certainly been fruitful, insightful and eye-opening to read the posts and comments.

  7. Actually, some Americans do have a food culture. There's southern food, western food, soul food, etc. That Japanese lunch does look fun, but not all American schools are bad with food. I went from the Georgian school system with constant spoiled milk and the occasional roach to a wonderful school called Lithia Springs Elementary in Florida, and the Great Falls, Montana school system which both had excellent lunch options mind you. My high school here had three lunch lines. State lunch, cold lunch (sandwiches and salads), and hot lunch (pizza and popcorn chicken). Only the state lunch was school paid for but the others were cheap. And this is a middle class town. The state lunches were great and I would occasionally get one of the others. Why does your school system serve such horrible food Mrs. Q? I do think the time allowance of a half hour here was wrong. They changed it to 45 minutes with 3 lunch periods from 30 with 5. That made things worse I'm sure. Many kids skip lunch and use the snack machines to avoid the trouble, but with everyone whining about obesity those choices are being stolen away. Let me tell you, the obesity rates at our schools were darn low. Any who, cool blog. I wish they gave us a japanese language class option. Why not chinese? Most people speak chinese apparently and it's near impossible to get a teacher for that. I had a friend from china teach me a bit but he was a busy man working on AIDS research and he went back to china when he was done so I didn't get to learn much. Now, my husband is military and we want to go to Japan or Korea since there's no Chinese base. Then I can learn something.

  8. I might add, this is a military town so our P.E. was brutal. Military recruits from here do great. GA's P.E. was weak and FL's was moderate. And when I diet, I just lessen my calories. So simple…

  9. An incredible post!
    I totally agree with Kyoung-hye. Kyoung-hye, well said!
    I live and teach in Seoul and I love it here, the food, the people, the culture. The food culture is amazing. People eat together, not in front of televisions. I'm American and it is so refreshing to enjoy food again, learn about the history of the dish that I'm eating, etc. Everything that I eat nourishes me, fancy that!

  10. I actually have a friend who teaches ESL in Japan. He has recently complained about how he can't put on any weight while he is Japan. (He is very very skinny) But while he is in the states he at least adds a little bit of flesh to his very lean frame.
    He posts some of the things he cooks for himself on his facebook every once in awhile and it all looks delicious and spectacularly healthy. I wish we would eat like the Japanese.

  11. I taught English in Japan in the public elementary and junior high schools. It was a rural town of about 15,000 people.

    My experience was similar to that of the blogger. While not every meal was perfectly nutritious in every respect, it was far and away more healthy than any school lunch I've seen in America. My school district had great lunches!

    We had a rice-based meal about 3 days a week, a noodle-based dish once a week, and a bread-based meal once a week. Most meals were high in vegetables, and much of the protein came from fish, tofu, or beans. On Saturdays (the kids still went to school for a half day on Saturdays then) the kids brought bento boxes from home.

    "Dessert" was usually several pieces of fruit–two wedges of orange, apple, persimmon, or a Japanese nashi (like a pear). Occasionally, there would be some sort of yogurt or pudding, but it was usually fruit.

    All this would be difficult for kids used to Coke, chips, gogurt, burger, and a cookie to adjust to. However, these kids never knew any different and really seemed to enjoy their seaweed soup (I enjoyed it, too.)

    I am not a nutritionist, but I do think the meal minimized the sugar rushes, the caffeine highs, and the energy crashes that go with junk food. The energy level seemed more consistently positive. Not sure if I'm making that up, but it seems true to me.

    What floored me when I was new was watching the really little kids serve lunch. Carts were brought to each classroom, and the 6-8 kids who were on lunch duty would don their protective face masks and hair nets and serve up the food while several other kids delivered it. Nobody was allowed to start until everyone had been served and seated. Some of the little kids were really slow–they didn't all have the motor skills down. But their teachers and classmates worked on it over time.

    After the meal was over, all the orange peels were put in one pile, all the tin foil in another pile–basically all the waste was sorted every day and recycled or disposed of properly.

    The elementary school operated with a lot of musical cues instead of nagging by teachers. When the lunch time music came on, that meant it was time for lunch. After lunch came the recess music. Recess was relatively long. The kids had a lot of options on the playground. One school had an avary with birds, a rabbit hutch, chickens, and a unicycle training area.

    The kids knew a lot of interactive games and played them often. They had little caps that were reversible. So when they needed two teams, one team would wear the red side of the cap and the other side would wear the white side.

    After recess there would be a brief announcement and then the "cleaning music" came on. All of the students had preassigned cleaning jobs that were rotated between teams. Some kids would collect trash on the playground, some kids would clean the bathrooms (not sure if that's a good thing), some would wipe the classroom floors, etc.

    By the time the kids actually settled into studies again, their lunch had settled and they'd gotten a fair amount of activity.

    I do not think that everything about the Japanese school system is perfect. I do not think everything is better in Japanese schools than in the States. But I do think that the meals, the activity level, the student involvement in the care and upkeep of the school, and the playfulness the children enjoyed on the playground were very healthy.

    I noticed a lot of rudeness towards heavy people in Japan. I was particularly uncomfortable with some comments that teachers made about young students who were "fat". They made these comments to the students in front of other students. I am slender enough, I did not receive any flack about my weight, but I know it can be very uncomfortable to be heavier than average in Japan.

  12. I also live and teach in Japan, and just as some background info…

    * School lunch is generally only provided in elementary and possibly junior high school. High school is not part of the mandatory education so the system is a little different. Though a high school will have a cafeteria where students can opt to buy lunch, the prices will generally be less than a restaurant but more than American school lunches. (300-400 yen, or about $3-$4)

    * Not only is school lunch provided in elementary school and junior high, but students are forced to eat it. Parents cannot opt out of school lunch. And of course they have to pay for it… about 3500 yen to 4000 yen a month ($35 – $40)…

    * Japan has its share of problems with school lunch too. Because everyone has to eat it they can pool the money and get more value for the dollar… But, more and more people are becoming more "American" in their thinking, and want more freedom in their lunch. The result is more and more parents trying to get out of paying the school lunch fees. If Japan is having trouble holding on to this system, it is hard to imagine a country like America, where many people already have their dietary restrictions (vegetarians and religion, picky eaters, allergies, health nuts, etc), being able to adopt a more Japanese system.

    The Japanese model is certainly one to look at, but you have to remember that they are working within a very specific cultural context, and parents are paying for what they get.

  13. I don't usually comment on things but I was especially interested in this post. I am a teacher and I have worked in schools in the US and Japan. I have also worked in elementary, middle, and high schools. Currrently I am working in a high school in Japan. I hated the schools lunch as a child and as a teacher in the US saw students served such great fare as biscuits and honey (a nightmare to clean too). These were children who wouldn't get fed otherwise, but the quality of the food was so poor it was probably as harmful as helpful. School lunch in Japan is different but not necessarily better. Food here is often extremely salty, fatty, or oily. Everything come with white rice, no other options are available except in foreign food stores. Whole grains are non existent but whole milk is the standard. Portions are ridiculous. I never order bentos at school because the food is not that healthy, I cannot finish the meal, and then I feel bad because I am "mottainai" (wasteful). I am constantly fighting to find a healthy diet here (and I am 5'5", 110). My point is that Japan is not the perfect model. There are some ways Americans eat better (variety) and ways Japanese eat better (less sugar most of the time). Balanced nutrition is difficult to find in any school and will be until schools receive the funding they deserve. By the way, support music in our schools (I'm a music teacher)!!

  14. I am currently a teacher in Japan as well (in fact, typing this from the school I teach at) and would just like to say that the pictures here are not the average kyuushoku (or mandatory lunch, for elementary and middle schools) in Japan. We almost unfailingly get a lunch of rice/cheap bread, soup, a "salad" with a mix of random vegetables, and a meat dish that is usually extremely oily or fried. We get fruit as part of lunch maybe once or twice a month. I can almost assure you that the strawberries in the picture are only there because it was for a special occasion in Japan.

    I do agree that Japan focuses a lot more on nutrition and eating habits than America does, but I just wanted to respond to let people know it is not some food paradise to aspire to. The lunches here are around 900 calories, around half of the recommended daily intake. Lots of foods are deep-fried in this country, and the amount of fish eaten raises concerns about mercury poison in the population. I think the reasons why people find themselves losing weight in Japan (I myself have lost 10 pounds naturally in half a year) are mostly because 1) the quantity of food served is significantly less than American portions, 2) exercise is a significant part of school, up through high school, and 3) people walk places, as cars are both expensive and often not as convenient.

    As such, I think exercise might actually be a better and much cheaper solution to America's obesity problem than food. Realistically, nobody can afford to give students organic food for school every day, reducing portions and moving more save money and are definitely things we should be investing in.

    But I do appreciate your efforts on this blog. I tell my kids here all the time that American lunches are pretty unhealthy, but they are still extremely envious that we get burgers and chicken nuggets. Grass is greener, I suppose.

  15. I have to question the 'need' for a Nutritionist at each school district, with whom we are paying a lot of money too, when we get Lunches such as these…which are nationwide…
    It is not only recently, it has been happening long before…back in the 1960's.
    I remember the smell of the canned spinach(which I still love) but which has a distinctive scent, the half an apple and half an orange and an grayish hamburger on a wet bun. Or the taco with limp lettuce, mystery meat, melted cheese, chips, and half an apple.
    Or, in middle school, switching over to having Jack In the Box serving burgers, Taco bell the tacos and Burritos, and Pizza hut the Pizzas on alternating weeks. Yippee.

    Oh, I disagree about cultural food…WE DO have a cultural food! FAST FOOD. Ever since the fifties and diners, burgers and fries, mc donalds, jack in the box, taco bell, and Burger king…THESE are OUR Culture. The countries you named are Not Mixing pots of different ethnicities with a RICH and Beautiful taste bud…ours have been dulled… and we now our invading their countries with our fast foods…ick.
    I am glad You are doing this perilous adventure in lunchroom tastings, at your school…heaven watch over your tummy! Lisa

  16. As a homeschooling mom, I'm much like some of the other commenters – glad that our "school" has a low teacher to student ratio and we as the parents have control over what our kids eat when and what they learn about.

    I applaud your blog and the PICTURES that are helping to tell the story of life in your school. I just have to say I am astounded once again that people think throwing more money at the American public schools is going to help the issues. I (and many other homeschoolers) would love to have as much money per student as public schools get for their students. We could probably go on an African safari!

    But as far as lunch is concerned, most of the policies I've seen or heard about are because of single incidents that cause overall change. For example, most students in schools could leave during lunch and go home to eat and then come back. But probably one kid got killed on the road (I'm not really trying to mock a tragedy though it might sound that way) and that stops the whole policy of leaving at lunch time. Schools are afraid of getting sued and form policies and laws to prevent it. Sometimes you have to dig into the issue to get to where it is at today and see if it is still logical and worthwhile.

    The food in the pictures looks like it is SEALED individual servings of everything except the occasional piece of fruit or bread. How much do you think it costs to provide sealed food servings? Probably a lot. Why is it sealed? Probably b/c it is trucked in from a common source to prevent germs and other things but it probably is costing more and has less quality, but it meets that need of being cleaner and easier. I think the comments today prove that it needs to be reevaluated to see if it is worth it! 🙂

  17. Another American living in Japan here. I teach elementary and junior high and I have to agree that the entry here isn't really a perfect representation of the lunches we eat here on a daily basis.

    I have trouble at school lunch because it is normally too much food for me. I eat slowly and become full well before I have finished my giant helping of rice. But as stated before, you HAVE to finish everything, even if you are full. I tend to give away one of my sides at lunch because I simply can't finish it all. Also, I get looked down on for being a bit of a picky eater. I can't eat mayonaise without feeling sick and most vegetables here are smothered in it. So when I give away my salad to a student willing to take it I get funny looks.

    I do love that the students serve each other and that they clean the school. But I also have to object with the test scores comment. It's complicated, but one example I can hold up is that my students who consistenly get 4s or 7s on their English tests (and yes that's out of 100) will move on to the next grade just like all the other kids, and I have to assume that its the same with other subjects as well.

    But I do admire your blog. American school lunches do need work and I hope this calls attention to that. When I was a child my mother let me choose which days I would eat from the cafeteria and which days I would bring lunch from home. I brought my lunch for almost all of elementary school but I ate school lunch for most of junior high and high school because I had a variety of things to choose from at school. I know it wasn't always healthy, but I liked having the choice.

  18. This is NOT a typical school lunch in Japan. I would also venture to guess he works in private nursery schools as I've never seen foreign teachers in nursery schools in my area of Japan.

    The quality of food in Japanese schools varies as wildly as it does in the US. In my area it's gotten so bad many boards of education are doing weekly "appreciate food" days where all the students get are a small bowl of white rice and a bowl of miso soup. The students then complain the rest of the day about being hungry.

    But we're not even the worst off. In some areas of Japan schools have simply stopped giving out lunch because there's no money in the budget for it. Either you get a lunch from home or no lunch at all 🙁

  19. Someone needs to send this wonderful blog to President OBAMA. I wonder if his daughters eat like this?

  20. most school lunch programs are run by cities, so you can imagine they vary (a lot of rural areas in Japan suffer from draining youth to big cities).
    I grew up in a big city, and it sounds like the elementary school lunch there currently costs the parents approx. $40 a month.
    They cut cost by using "old rice" (people only eat rice crop harvested within a year, so previous year's crop is sold much cheaper), for example.
    I remember fried foods too, as they are popular among kids, but even with fried food a lunch menu never exceed 700kcal (you can download PDF versions of school lunch menus from different cities in Japan, though only in Japanese).

  21. Hello!

    Both of you and everyone else! I am so grateful! I am going to take this to the rest of our board members!

    To speak about Japan … my husband is Japanese. It has been enlightening just what kind of efforts we 'could' be making.

    BUT one of the things I have observed, is the quality of the food in other countries is … different. The commercial food that I have had in other countries tastes more like the food I grow in my garden. He said 'they' (with the children making connection to food) grow some of their own food at school, and that it comes from local farmers too.

    Also, the older kids prepare the food and serve the younger children.

    Another factor in Japan (and perhaps other countries more than the USA) is that Mother is home, or Grandmother or Aunt. A quote I read from a Japanese cook book illustrates a different relationship to nourishing children.

    "We request that every mother make lunch for her daughter every day. Our main theme at this school is to help our students learn to be giving and loving. One of the ways your daughters will learn this is from your love packed lunch box. We understand that there might be times when a mother has an emergency and cannot prepare lunch. WE provide a sandwich and a lunch box stand at school, but it is not for every day. …."-Naomi Moriyama This was the High School orientation speech.

    Nourishment is possible for more than just the body.

  22. Wow, I love this blog! And I was really impressed by Daniel's post. My kids don't really like their school lunches and are always asking to take lunch to school. Because of time and money we don't do it consistently. But I am now inspired to do so, THANKS!!

  23. I lived in Japan for 18 months and I LOVE the food. That being said, good luck getting American teenagers to eat anything remotely related to that. It starts way before they enter school.

  24. As I see the pictures of the "meals" you have on here,I can't help but think back to when I was in school. Granted, it was 40 years ago, but we had "real cooks", that cooked "real food". That pre packaged crap that you have pictured would turn anyones stomach. We would have chili that was made from scratch, with real ground beef.We had real mashed potatoes.We had real fruit. You can't tell me that it would cost more to do it that way, then it would to buy all that packaged crap, that probably has enough preservatives in it to last a lifetime.

  25. reading the guest blog was like reading poetry! I was so touched! I too remember my elementary school serving home cooked meals and it wasn't all that long ago! I saw the ad for the new Jamie Oliver show and I am so excited to watch it! I usually pack my son's lunch but occasionally he chooses "hot" lunch…not too often since we must have the same vendor as Mrs Q. We don't have a kitchen at our school, just a room with a freezer and an oven…just this year we have a cafeteria after 10 years of eating in classrooms! It is a charter school and we chose it for the education, not the food. But "meals" like these need to stop! Thanks to all of you for your inspirational blogs!

  26. I previously taught at a school in a poor rural village in West Africa and even those children were given more nutritious food than you have pictured here (at the American school, the Japanese school lunch looks quite nicely balanced). I recall one afternoon the cook had neglected/decided against adding meat to the stew and the children nearly revolted.

    However, I do concede that it was easier to feed my students well as part of their education included tending the gardens and livestock that produced the majority of their diet (and the year round growing season didn't hurt), but I still find it interesting that an impoverished country would do more for their children than a major industrialized one.

  27. From my experience as a student in Japan, if you don't get something right or score well on the test, they give you a make-up assignment or test that is unbelievably easy. I hardly turned in any assignments for one class and at the end they had me write a two-page essay in place of my missed assignments, and they let me pass. I've spoken to former English teachers in Japan and they have said teachers will often feed students the answers and test scores are the result of memorization more than actual problem solving and understanding facts. This may be why after having English lessons from the sixth grade until graduation, most Japanese STILL can't speak English.

    I'm also pretty sure most Japanese are malnourished. They eat lots of white rice, which has the bulk of the calories and carbs in a meal here, and lots of noodles (buckwheat noodles are healthy, but ramen and udon noodles are not), and a they prize fatty meats over lean meats. People are stick thin and have absolutely no muscle mass… so while the meal in the picture sounds nice and balanced, if your a veggie freak like me you're going to have trouble finding a place that doesn't toss chopped bacon all over your healthy salad.

  28. daniel is so lucky to be so submersed in the japanese culture and know so much. for me, japan is one of the most intriguing places in the world and to know so much about the culture as well the cuisine [yum] is probably such an honor. it's amazing how much thought is put into these lunches while all we high school students get is a tray full of mystery substances and getting yelled at by the supervisors for standing around for lack of tables.

  29. Once again, I would just like to point out how many of us in Japan have brought up that this IS NOT a typical Japanese school lunch. So don't put Japan on a special pedestal for serving children good food when really just like the US, it's not always true. Japanese students are also given what seems like mystery food to us… mushy seaweed, little fish with eyes staring back at you. At least Americans can throw out the food if they don't want it, Japanese students are forced to eat it.

  30. Susan

    Wow! What a diverse array of comments on this topic.

    Mr Ferguson's lunch looks absolutely delicious, but I agree with others that it definitely was for a special occasion and most likely doesn't reflect the daily lunch as much.

    I grew up in Edmonton (Canada). In elementary and jr high, we had no cafeteria- everyone brought lunch from home. In jr high we had a canteen that sold chips, popsicles, chocolate bars and all that- this is before the healthy eating/active living apporach had swept through schools and caused a lot of them to remove vending machines and break contracts with Pepsi or Coke)

    In high school, we had a cafeteria that had HORRIBLE food- and it was super expensive. You would pay $7 or $8 for a chicken burger and fries. And the few times I decided to eat there, I would buy a veggie tray that had invariably been sitting there for literally 3-4 days and all the veggies were dried and cracking. Veggie tray and a milk would also run around 7 or 8 dollars.

    There is no government sponsored meal program in Canada as far as I'm aware so school cafeterias run for profit. Some schools have subsidized lunch programs through local donors or grants from the government, but no true universal program for school lunches exists if that makes sense.

    On processed food in the US- I visit the US yearly for vacations and although Canada and the US are very similar in some ways, when I was walking through a grocery store in the US I was absolutely flabbergasted at the convenience products that were available and so unnecessary. We didn't have these products! It was difficult to find whole foods like vegetables and fruits in their whole form, whole grain bread and tortillas, milk and cheese and fresh meats in this grocery store because everything was drown out by the packaged processed convenience foods.

    I know that North America sort of has a food culture- I would have to agree that it is the fast food type culture, but with recent years, people have been rejecting this because of health concerns and people blaming the fast food industry for causing the obesity epidemic. I'm not sure about the US, but I know that because so many people in Canada retain the culture of their homelands, there are a lot of people who still eat culturally. I'm 3-4 generation Ukrainian and I still help make perogies and cabbage rolls and a lot of other traditional foods, although many times these are for special occasions rather than for every day meals. I'm not sure if this is often the case for Americans too.

    Thank you Mr Ferguson for a great post and Mrs Q, you are doing a great job! Keep the fabulous posts coming!

  31. As a person who exited American high school less than 10 years ago, and who grew up in both Japanese and American school systems (until I was in middle school), I feel like I have the unique experience of dealing with both school lunches. My mom is Japanese, and my father is American.

    My mom always made my lunch for me in America. I preferred it, even if it was "uncool" in middle school to bring your own lunch, because the alternative seemed disgusting. A lot of sloppy joes, curly fries, things that involve ketchup (burgers, hot dogs, etc.). Things that are all one color. My parents weren't STRICT about food (one of my friends had a nurse for a mother, and she forbid cookies! my parents were much more lenient about that), but they still exercised moderation. Only one soda a day, only one hour of tv, that sort of thing. I credit my parents for the way I view food now and eat when I'm hungry, stop when I'm full, and eat different colored things that are mostly unprocessed.

    In Japan, the school lunches were sort of like what you had pictured here… Parents would pay the month's dues ahead of time, and cooks would make it, deliver it hot to classrooms (no cafeteria; we'd eat at our desks), and students would serve it to their peers. Even though I didn't like those lunches very much, they were still better than what was served in American cafeterias: fish, vegetable, and a giant aluminum tin of white rice that I don't know how ANYONE finished. And warm milk. We were encouraged to finish every morsel because it was wrong to be wasteful, but I couldn't ever finish the portions, and I hated warm milk so I wouldn't drink anything during lunch at all.

    Then after lunch, we'd stack our plates and bowls in crates, send them back to the cooks' area, and move our desks and start cleaning. This is something I wish would happen in America. As someone before me mentioned, Japanese kids know that if they make a mess, they will be burdening themselves or their peers in cleaning it up. American students leave behind huge messes for the custodians because it's "not their problem"… which annoys the crap out of me.

  32. This is the neatest thing ever. I am a high school senior who gets to leave for an hour during my lunch time, so luckily I don't have to deal with typical American school lunches. However, if this sort of meal was served at my school, I would DEFINITELY stay. This was so cute.

  33. As a high school teacher in Japan, I just want to say that I agree with everything other fellow English teachers in Japan have said. At my high school, the kids bring their bento and when I question if their mothers had made them, they all say the food was frozen food- and I have checked the nutrition labels of such food- they are loaded with colorings and additives. That can't be too nutritious, can it?

    Japanese people are generally slimmer because there is more pressure to be thin than back home. I had never seen so many diet commericals and advertisements in my life till I came here.

    I have students whom I sure their BMI is below 20 but they always complained about how 'fat' they are and how much they need to go on a diet.


  34. I can't believe that school lunches like that exist O_O Daniel, I'm so envious of you! In Japan they are light years ahead of us concerning food education. Everything you shared with us seems to be so far-fetched in our culture, and yet they're doing it in Japan. It's like the paradise of school lunches. I'm a Spanish as a second language teacher-to-be, and I'm planning on working in the UK, but after reading and seeing this, I'm starting to consider going to Japan instead!! =)

  35. I enjoyed to read your blog really.
    I am a Japanese girl who working as a Japanese chef. and I used to work as an au pair in the USA for 2 years. and before then, I was working at the preschool and I helped kitchen.

    When I was in the USA, Feeding food for kid's was most difficult problem for me. because it is soooo different from our food culture.
    I felt they have too many likes and dislikes.
    It's OK if they know what supposed to eat or not when they are growing up. but I think they have no idea. even parents don't know.

    I'm hoping if I can introduce Japanese school lunch in the USA. but I don't know how…
    Anyway,I love your blog very much! here is my blog! so, Please check when you have time!

  36. About 2-3 times a week, I make rice balls (onigiri) for my two elementary school aged children. I also include a pack of nori (seaweed) that is freshly wrapped around the onigiri at lunch time. I cannot tell you how many times my children have come home to tell me that they had to share their onigiri with a friend or two who just seem to gobble them up. It's plain rice (I purchase "haiga" rice which is a nutritional compromise between white rice and brown rice) that I cook in my rice cooker in the morning. It takes only a couple of minutes to form the rice balls. I also pack a fruit, a light snack, milk and water in my children's lunch. Pretty simple and easy lunch to pack with far more nutritional value. Preparing a traditional lunch box (bento box) such as the one shown in Mr. Ferguson's photo can be done on a daily basis, but certainly requires more planning. Our children are worth the effort, aren't they?

  37. Hello,

    I'd like to know what they serve for lunch in american schools?
    When i was at school, we could choose between meat or fish, fries ,or an other carbohydrate like rice or pasta, vegetables, and a dessert (fruit, chocolate mousse etc…)
    It was pretty healthy at that time.
    I know now that it's not the case anymore.
    Egg whites and yolk are brought separately in boxes , chocolate mousse is just a powder mixed with water or milk and battered etc…
    Fortunately lot's of people cook from scratch in france, and lot's of culinary tv programs exist where you can learn how to make a bechamel, and other specialties.

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