This Is What Japanese School Lunches Really Look Like

When you try to imagine what a school lunch would look like in Japan, you probably picture all the kids sitting down to eat, each with a sweet little bento box filled with colorful sushi or perhaps even an adorable teddy bear-shaped omurice with maybe some Hello Panda cookies or Hi-Chew for dessert. Well, think again — the entire nation of Japan is not one giant Pinterest board! 

Rather than focusing on making their lunches cute, instead, they want them to be super-healthy. According to Study International, Japan is really, really big on nutrition, and nowhere is this more evident than in their nationwide school lunch program. Although school lunch isn't free for all students, the lunches are subsidized to the point where they are an inexpensive way for even low-income families to make sure their kids get a well-balanced meal. Interestingly enough, Japanese schools don't tend to have cafeterias, but instead have the kids eat in their classrooms where the daily lunch itself is actually part of the health curriculum. What the schools do apparently have, however, is kitchens, since lunches are made with fresh, seasonal ingredients and don't make use of frozen or processed foods.

So what's in a typical Japanese school lunch?

Okay, so Japanese school lunches are very nutritious, but what is on the menu, and is it anything worth eating? According to The Japan Guy, school lunches at the Japanese public school where he taught were actually pretty tasty. As he so emphatically phrased it, the meals "BEAT THE PANTS OFF of the lunches I remember at my elementary school (with the possible exception of pizza day, he notes, since pizza is one of those dishes that other countries never seem to get quite right).

Each Japanese school lunch includes protein, vegetables, and carbs and comes with milk. Some of the meals he describes sound like something we'd happily order off a restaurant menu such as chicken curry with naan and corn salad or stir-fried pork and veggies with meat dumplings and vegetable soup. School lunches being school lunches, however, even Japan has a few less-than-exciting (but very familiar-sounding) ones in the rotation. This includes a sad-looking fish filet with a slice of white bread, tomato soup, and salad (actually, the latter two items didn't look too bad) and an equally uninspired chicken patty with rice taking the place of bread. The trays, in case you were wondering, are just ordinary-looking plastic ones, and not a single item on them is carefully arranged to look like a flower or cartoon animal. Whew! Good to know that eating well, even in Japan, doesn't require the crafting skills of a Martha Stewart.