Rethinking Tableware: Reusable Plates at Lunch Time (Part I)

The past few weeks I’ve seen a few articles pop up in my notifications about how Japanese schools are encouraging activities for students to make their own plates and bowls for school lunch use. After all, it’s nice to eat from something you made. That made me ponder - perhaps the only reusable item in the United States lunch system is the plastic tray. Most schools use paper plates or Styrofoam trays (unfortunately! Read about why Styrofoam is so terrible here.) Disposable plates are not necessarily the norm in other countries. Let’s take a quick look at what other countries serve their lunch on.

FranceSchoolLunch.jpg

France

The midday meal is served in a restaurant scolaire, or school restaurant, and based on most every picture I have found of school lunch, food is served on reusable trays, with normal tableware such as you might find at home. Interestingly, as in true form with a restaurant, food is served to children by table staff. I particularly enjoy their water cups with every meal.

Lunch is actually the main meal of the day in France, usually including a salad to start, a main course with vegetables on the side, bread, cheese and dessert (though dessert might be a piece of fruit).

Japan

Japan uses a wide variety of tableware - but usually it is a plastic tray, bowls, and plates. Alternatively, some schools in Japan are encouraging non-plastic eating ware, the standard in many schools around Japan. Some schools are embracing pottery created by local artisans, while other schools provide experiences for schools to make their own rice bowls and use them during lunch time. The practicality of using reusable serving ware and cook where in Japan is due to several areas (1) Most elementary school classrooms have large, low-lying sinks that children are used to using every day. They use them to wash their hands, brush their teeth after meals, and even clean out the milk containers. The possibility of kids cleaning their bowl and storing it in the classroom is possible because children are accustomed to this type of behavior, and have been trained how to do so from first grade. (2) If more local forms of pottery are used, even if a generic variety (such as the identical bowls pictured in the video) the school lunch centers are already equipped with machinery and infrastructure with which to wash the plates.

Korea

Korean School Lunch.jpg

Korean school lunch trays I find particularly interesting - perhaps it is simply something to do with the metal. Interestingly, Korea’s default material of choice for chopsticks is metal - so this aesthetic carries into the lunch trays as well? Either way, these serving vessels are very reusable!

In Japan April 15th Begins the School Lunch Year

In Japan April 15th Begins the School Lunch Year

Unlike many countries which begin their school year in the autumn, Japan begins the school year in April. Spring is the time for new beginnings after al!. For students it is not just new books and getting used to, for first graders who may not have experienced “kyushoku” (school lunch) before, today is a momentous day - their first official day experiencing school lunch in school.

NHK News Commentators Bureau: Thinking About School Lunch & Poverty

NHK News Commentators Bureau: Thinking About School Lunch & Poverty

1 in 7 children in Japan live in poverty (14%). This figure is considered high compared to other developed countries and was the impetus behind the passage of the 2013 “Child Poverty Prevention Law.” Under this law, the government and prefectures develop policies to combat poverty of children, in addition to researching and promoting supportive measures. This year marks 5 years since the passage of this law.

Kyushoku Hiroba: Shiraoi Food Education Disaster Prevention Center in Hokkaido

Kyushoku Hiroba: Shiraoi Food Education Disaster Prevention Center in Hokkaido

In Shiraoi a School Lunch Center has been developed with disaster mitigation in mind. The facility operates as a normal school lunch center, but also has the space and services to stock-pile food for times of disaster. The facilities was supported by a subsidy from the local government and operates according to normal standards set forth by the government, including incorporating the “dry system” of food preparation, subdivision of work rooms, and a special room and assigned staff designated to create meals for those with allergies. In the creation of this facility, Shiraoi Town is tackling two big challenges currently facing the school lunch system - how to efficiently cope with allergies - and how to ensure that during times of disaster lunch centers can be used as resources by the general public.

In Brief: What is the Dry Food Preparation Method?

In Brief: What is the Dry Food Preparation Method?

If you talk to someone in the food preparation world in Japan, they will often talk about the “Dry Method” when it comes to meal preparation. Dry is now the norm in school lunch centers throughout Japan, but that implies that there was once a “wet system” - which indeed there was!

Shokuhin Sagyo News: Grand Opening of "Vege Kids" - the Kindergarten where you learn to love vegetables

Japanese food company Kagome announced that they will be opening their first kindergarten, known as “Vege Kids: The Kindergarten Where You Learn to love Vegetables” in Chuo Ward Tokyo. Kagome decided to open Vege Kids in response to the tension that many people face between raising children and career. The Vege Kids curriculum includes cooking, growing seedlings, and making vegetables a part of a “daily scene” for kids that kids can learn the knowledge to be a part of.

Kahoku Online News: "The Muslim Next Door" - Living in Sendai; School Lunch Considerations

Kahoku Online News: "The Muslim Next Door" - Living in Sendai; School Lunch Considerations

On March 25, Kahoku Online news published an article about Muslims living in and around Sendai (north-east Japan) and considerations when it comes to school lunch. The author pointed out the difficulty in balancing Islamic culinary customs into the existing school lunch menu. According to Sendai City Health Education Division, many Muslim children often only eat staple food and milk while eating, and often bring side dishes from home to supplement the menu items that they cannot eat. Meanwhile, some elementary schools are beginning to provide halal-compatible meals - although it is anything but the norm.

The Conversation: Federal budget pledges a Canadian school food program but recipe requires funding

The Conversation: Federal budget pledges a Canadian school food program but recipe requires funding

The Conversation just published an an interesting piece entitled “Federal budget pledges a Canadian school food program but recipe requires funding” which discusses the budgetary needs this new initiative will face. Included in this article is a nice comparative list of school lunch programs from around the world