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.



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 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.


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!