I know I have raved about it before but the school (and kinder) lunches my kids have had here are really amazing. There is a huge emphasis on fresh food, locally grown vegetables (there's a quota for vegetables grown in the Matsumoto area), their rice is hatsuga genmai germinated brown rice) and often has barley or kibble or seaweed mixed through it, the protein is often fish and every day they are served a main, salad/ vegetable, rice (or bread once a week), soup and milk. Occasionally fruit or some other dessert is added but not every day. There is a good balance between straight-up healthy for you food (ginger boiled fish, steamed chicken) and things kids love to eat and look forward to (fried pork cutlets, curry.) The meal is calorie controlled to 650 calories to boot. Even on fried food days which amazes me. On special occasions like Children's Day, Christmas, Equinox etc there will be traditional/ celebratory food served as well.
The meal often comes with an explanation of some aspect of the cooking or a nutrition quiz or some such that raises the kids awareness of nutrition and a balanced diet in a fun and non-preachy way.
And occasionally we break out of straight Japanese fare and the kids learn something of food from another culture- bibimba from Korea and chilli dogs from America come to mind.
The school lunch centre also goes to great lengths for kids with allergies and has individual plans for these kids with what they can eat, what the can't and what to use as a substitute.
Oh and we get a monthly menu in advance so we know what will be served when and really organised mums can plan their dinners around this to avoid doubling up on proteins. (I'm not one of those mums...)
I knew this system came after the war as a reaction to the malnutrition/ vitamin deficiency caused difference in height and weight of Japanese children compared to their cohorts in other countries.
I also knew that Ken's grandnmother and other people of her generation (she died in her mid )90's five years ago) had it really tough.
But I had no idea that people much younger than her had also had it really tough.
I was teaching a senior English class of women in their mid-60s and early 70s and one of them was talking about her school days. She grew up in a village that is now an easy 40 minute drive from here and pretty well connected to the rest of the prefecture but at the time was much more isolated.
She said they didn't have school lunch.
They didn't eat rice for lunch at all.
Each child brought a vegetable from home each day and part of the school day for the monitors of this job was cutting up these vegetables and making a big pot of miso soup.
And that was lunch for teacher and students alike.
I told her I loved the cooperative, 'the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts' factor in this and that I thought it was a fabulous idea.
She replied that by February it was almost always just daikon and hakusai cabbage and quite bland and boring and repetitive.
That kind of took the rosy glow off my image of the unifying group lunch a little....
And makes me even more thankful of the fabulous school lunches the kids now have!