Tokyo ward pushes healthy, delicious school lunches

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Samples of lunches served at schools in Adachi Ward, Tokyo

Adachi Ward, Tokyo, has succeeded in drastically reducing leftovers from school lunches by serving enticing dishes and working to increase students’ interest in food.

Leftovers at public elementary and junior high schools in the ward have fallen in volume to about one-third of the amount produced more than a decade ago.

“The school lunch system is necessary for healthy mental and physical growth in children. We are glad that they are eating more now,” Ward Mayor Yayoi Kondo said.

Aiming to be the best

“Itadakimasu!” fourth-grade students at the ward’s Hanaho Elementary School said in unison in a classroom, expressing their gratitude for the day’s school lunch before digging in on Nov. 15.

Many of the children smiled as they ate, and with good reason. The day’s main dish was jumbo deep-fried gyoza dumplings, prepared with komatsuna greens grown in the ward. Chinese tuna salad was also served as a side dish, along with soup containing wakame seaweed and tofu.

“It’s so crispy and yummy. I always look forward to lunch at school,” one of the students, 10, said.

Adachi Ward places so much emphasis on school lunches that it has even established a department to ensure lunches are delicious.

As quality and the amount of leftovers varied from school to school in the past, the ward started a program to promote tasty school lunches in fiscal 2007.

Aiming to serve the tastiest school lunches in Japan, nutritionists assigned to elementary and junior high schools in the ward meet once a month to discuss menu items.

The school lunch program puts emphasis not only on taste but also on health.

The cooking staff make it a rule to use natural dashi stock prepared from katsuobushi, or dried bonito shavings, and kelp for their lightly seasoned dishes. Veteran nutritionists visit schools to check on how lunches are made and give advice to principals and the nutritionists in charge if necessary.

To increase students’ interest in food, the program also includes classes conducted by farmers who visit the schools and a school lunch menu competition where students create their own menu items.

As a result of these measures, the total amount of leftovers generated at all elementary and junior high schools in the ward has fallen drastically, down to 113 tons in fiscal 2021 from 381 tons in fiscal 2008.

A survey conducted by the ward in fiscal 2021 showed that 96% of sixth graders and 93% of eighth graders said their school lunches were “delicious.”

Selling popular dishes

To make these popular school lunches widely known to the public, the ward is conducting campaigns in cooperation with corporations.

In early November, major convenience store chain Seven-Eleven Japan Co. started selling “shrimp cream rice” as well as “koma-tuna salad,” named after its main ingredients of komatsuna and tuna, at stores in and outside the ward.

In mid-November, a school lunch fair was held at a shopping mall in the ward. Farmers who supply komatsuna to schools in the ward explained how to grow the vegetable. Photos of dishes served were also displayed to convey the appeal of school lunches.

“We want to enhance students’ health and boost the public image of the ward through our delicious school lunches, which are one of the ward’s attractive features,” a ward official said.

Awards for excellence

The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education places importance on “shokuiku,” or food and nutrition education. It awards prizes to public schools that use new ideas to improve school lunches and work to provide food-related classes.

In fiscal 2021, the Sakurano Elementary School in Musashino was given the award for excellence in health promotion in the school lunch field.

At the school, the nutritionist and others teach students how to hold chopsticks and how to break apart cooked fish, among other things, mainly during lunch time.

The school also supports the consumption of locally produced ingredients, and has added dishes that use cabbage and carrots grown in the city to its school lunch menu.

“We were given the award because not only the teachers but also the nutritionist and other school lunch staff have worked together to deal sincerely with the students,” said Vice Principal Tadataka Motohashi. “We will work to help students learn more in depth through the school lunch system.”