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!, or my twitter I will be writing about Japanese food and culture! Yuki

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22 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Triangular Eating in Japan

  1. We have tried a similar process with our girls – we call it "eating around the clock" – the plate is a face on a clock and they eat a bite of each thing on the place in clockwise order.

    We introduced it mainly to keep them from eating their favorite thing first and then say they were "full" when all that was left on their plates were the things they didn't like. However, I like the idea put forth by your guest blogger about eating more healthfully and letting your mouth "reset."

  2. Yuki, thank you for writing this post. I found it very interesting. I think this way of eating helps a person be more aware of what he or she is eating instead of just "shoveling" food in the mouth.

    Pennie in Boulder

  3. Wow this was such a great post! I had no idea about triangular eating, but it is such an awesome idea for getting kids (and people) into the habit of eating a variety of foods. I'm definitely going to try this at lunch today.

  4. Okay I might be a bit slow today, but I still don't understand the triangle eating. You have 3 main things to eat? You eat one at a time? Or you alternate between the 3? Do you mind clarifying what exactly triangular eating means for those like me that have never heard of it so are a little confused. Thanks!

  5. Very interesting…so refreshing to see the mission to improve school lunches has gone global!

  6. I must have missed something in the explanation. I get that she thinks it's good. But is she trying to say it trains them to eat in a pattern Meat, Starch, Veggie or Meat, Starch, Soup. Are they eating all of each part before they move on to the next? Or are we talking about just arranging it on a plate in a triangle? Because Sushi or that bento box for example have mixed different portions entirely. It almost sounds like she's recommending a macrobiotic diet. I'm sorry I had a difficult time grasping this one.

  7. Took me a second reading to catch on to what the guest blogger was saying. if i understand correctly, children are taught to take a bite of the main dish, then a bite of the starch (rice/bread/pasta), then a bite or spoonful of soup.

    if you add a fourth component to the meal, like a salad, it becomes "square" eating, right?

    i think this would be really fun to try with children. and i really like the concept that school lunch is the time to teach children how and what to eat. (every moment is a teachable moment!)

  8. In her example ((ex.) Main dish → Rice or Bread or Pasta →Soup →Main dish → Rice or Bread or Pasta → Soup….) she's saying you go around the plate, eating from each portion, then starting over again. It's a rotation.

    As other comments have already pointed out, it helps to make sure a little from each thing on the plate is sampled. It's a great idea. My daughter will often inhale her faves then leave the veggies and say "all full"! I hadn't thought about trying something so simple. Will do so tonight!

  9. This is a great idea, and is an excellent way for kids to try everything on their plate. If you are confused, what I believe she means is alternating between foods on your plate. Kind of like the "clockwise eating" that teej referred to.
    For example, imagine you have a portion of fish, potatoes, and veggies on your plate. You would have a bite of fish, then potatoes, then the veggie. You alternate between foods instead of scarfing down all the potatoes and not having room for the veggies.

  10. Mrs. Q, I'm a long time reader, but first time commentor. I must first say that I am really enjoying your blog. Yuki, this is a great idea and I am going to start working on getting my kids to do this at dinner tonight. For those who aren't following, the way I understand it is that a bite of each food is taken in turn so that all items on the plate are eaten, not just the "favorites" like my kids are so fond of doing. So they would take a bite of the main dish, a bite of the starch/potato/pasta, then a bite of the vegetable/soup. Repeat the pattern until full. I think it is a great idea! My kids are 8 & 4. Let's see if they will be willing to give this a go! Thank you!

  11. I think it's a bit easier in other countries to have healthier lunches because unlike the USA, most countries are not as diverse. It's harder to come up with a menu. Students in Japan eat Japanese food. Students in China eat Chinese food. So what do students in America eat for lunch? Salad, burgers, cereal, mysterious looking pasta, pizza, chicken nuggets seem to be a main stay in school lunches.

  12. This is confusing to me as well, I'm assuming it means eating a bite of each component of your meal until you are full – that way you get an even portion of everything??

    If this is what she means, I'm happy to say I already do this. In fact both my mom and I eat the exact same way, saving one bite of every food on our plates until the end of the meal. I like the contrast between textures and flavors and I feel like it makes each meal more of an event.

  13. Oh, my boyfriend would hate this! He always eats up all of one thing at a time. He hates food being mixed together or touching too.

    I think it helps if the different components of the meal actually go together, and that depends on if the person preparing it knows what they're doing. Looking at Ms. Q's blog and also that What's for School Lunch? blog, it seems like sometimes the food combinations make sense, but sometimes it's like they just threw some random things together that meets the USDA guidelines.

    Each part of the meal should have its own identity while at the same time coordinating with the rest of the meal. Maybe it's kind of like wearing a coordinating outfit.

  14. Hi! It's Yuki,
    Thank you for reading what I wrote and I'm sorry I made you confuse…
    What I'm saying is almost same as "eating around the clock".
    Like, eating a bite each of the portion until the end. Yes, It is a rotation!
    I'm happy to know that some people doing this already!!!

  15. Maybe it's just me, but I've always been eating like that. Probably just copied it from my parents 😛

  16. I never knew this was an actual thing either– I always did this since I was a kid because I liked getting a taste of everything, instead of eating one thing at a time! I thought I was weird whenever I ate with other people since they'd all eat the entire steak,etc first and then move on to side or something while I'd have bites taken of each lol.

  17. It took me a little while to get what Yuki was saying, but once I did it made total sense to me (I was thrown by the triangular shapes of the food in the picture).

    Then I realized I've been eating this way my whole life without knowing it. Kind of. I think I do it a little haphazardly, not in a particular order, but a bite of one thing and then another. I'm going to try it in a more orderly fashion next time – might help my brain be more organized too!

    I think this would greatly help kids, especially the kids Mrs. Q. writes about who scarf one or two things (i.e., hot dog and/or chips) and throw the rest away (i.e., veggies and/or fruit).

  18. Sankaku tabe is considered, by some, the traditional way of eating a Japanese meal. Some, mostly younger folks, eat in the bakkari tabe fashion. Here you eat all of an item before moving on to the next. Finally there is Kouchuu choumi where you put something in your mouth, chew it a bit, then take a bite of rice and chew the two together. Think mashed potatoes and corn.

  19. Anonymous: funny how strange it seems, as an American, to actually think enough about how you eat to have a name for it. Definitely more mindful eating going on in Japan.

  20. Hi Yuki –

    Couldn't find a comment button on your blog, so I'll have to send my comment through "Fed Up". I really enjoyed looking at your blog, and made the "3 Colour Rice Bowl" for dinner tonight. It was yummy so the kids loved, it, and it was quick & easy so I loved it too. The perfect weeknight dinner!

    I look forward to reading more of your blog…thanks to Mrs. Q for including you as a guest poster! Thanks to both of you from a new fan in Canada.

  21. Hi Leannne,
    I'm sorry! Comment button is 'コメント' in Japanese. I'll try figure out make it things into English.
    3 Color Rice Bowl is my favorite too!!! I'm glad to hear your kids love it!!!
    Thank you for cooking!

    Again, I really thankful Mrs. Q gave me this opportunity. Thank you so much!

  22. My mother always taught me to eat this way! Even though we are African American, it is quite possible that my family picked this up because my grandfather was stationed in Japan and one of my aunts was born there. I always remember having a meat a veggie and a grain (or starch like potatoes). Now whenever I eat, I expect at least those three items on one plate. I am now teaching my family that way. My daughter is only 18 months and she loves all food including the "good for you" things like fruits and veggies. I say I am teaching my family because I have also taught my husband this way of balanced eating. He'd be happy with meat and rice all day! lol

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