School Lunch: Society As A Whole Should Support System That Helps Parents, Children

Soaring prices are having a major impact on school lunch services, which contribute to children’s health and growth. What is needed to maintain stable provision of these meals? It is important for society as a whole to consider this issue.

Matsue, the capital of Shimane Prefecture, has raised the fee for school lunches at public elementary and junior high schools and other schools by ¥19 to ¥20 per meal starting in the autumn term. Many parents may be troubled by the increased burden.

The city of Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, also raised school lunch fees starting this school year. The city had made a number of cost-cutting efforts, such as replacing beef bowls with pork bowls and making hamburger steaks smaller. But rising food prices outpaced such efforts, and on some days the calorie content reportedly fell short of the national standard, leading the city to decide to hike fees.

The School Lunch Law stipulates that local governments bear the cost of facilities and equipment, while guardians bear the cost of the food itself. But as some local governments went ahead to make school lunches free of charge as a measure against high prices or to support child-rearing, the responses on school lunch fees have differed among local governments.

As school lunches play an increasingly important role in children’s development, it is not desirable for disparities in cost burdens and services to exist depending on the financial strength of the municipality in which the child happens to reside.

For children who skip breakfast or have unbalanced eating habits, school lunches, which are prepared with nutritional balance in mind, are a great source of diet supplementation.

For children who, due to various family circumstances, eat meals alone at home, a warm school lunch enjoyed with friends may have more significance than just satisfying hunger.

With the number of two-worker households increasing, not having to get up early to make lunches for children will also reduce the burden on parents.

It can be said that providing inexpensive, high-quality school lunches is the responsibility of adults. Ingenuity must be exercised to create such an environment.

The city of Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture, purchases off-spec vegetables — which would normally be discarded — from local farmers at low prices, and uses them as ingredients for school lunches.

Kodomo shokudo cafeterias around the country, which provide free or low-price meals to children, use food that has been pulled from the market by manufacturers and others as its best-before dates approach. The cafeterias serve the food after confirming its safety.

Could such an approach be applied to school lunch services as well? This could be an opportunity for children to become interested in the issue of food waste.

The government is providing financial support to local governments struggling with the rising cost of foodstuffs for school lunches. The government will reportedly consider the possibility of making school lunches free of charge uniformly throughout the nation after studying the situation in each municipality.

While there are issues to be addressed, such as securing financial resources, free school lunches are also likely to be an effective measure to counter the declining birth rate. It is hoped that steps will be taken to make it a reality.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 21, 2023)