This is not exactly a bento story, but it’s certainly related, especially for moms and dads of kids in grade school. A public school in Chicago has banned lunches brought from home. The reason stated by the school principal is to “protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.” To quote from the article:
Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” [school principal] Carmona said. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.
Having just written about school lunch at a kindergarten here in Japan, I thought it was quite ironic to read this. Of course, lunch brought from home can be very unhealthy. But is banning all lunches brought from home, with exceptions only made for kids with allergies or medical issues going too far?
I don’t have any experience with school lunches in the U.S. recently. I vaguely remember the school lunches I had when I was in 5th grade in the U.S., and later the lunches offered in high school when my family moved back there. Well I take that back actually - I don’t remember any food offered by the high school cafeteria. I must have eaten there occasionally, but I think I mostly brought lunch from home (not bentos, but sandwiches and the like). All I do remember is that, during the year I went to school in White Plains, New York, I had spaghetti with meat sauce almost every single day. The spaghetti was all cut up and rather mushy, but it still tasted better than anything else on offer to me.
On the other hand I do remember the school lunches I had when I was in elementary school in Japan. (In junior and senior high school we didn’t have school lunch, so I brought a bento or bought some sandwiches or kashipan - filled sweet or savory bread. In junior high school when I was in the kendo (Japanese fencing) club, I’d be so hungry that I’d buy a couple of kashipan besides eating my bento, and still was a skinny kid around 40 kilo, at basically my current high. Those were the days…) The reason why I remember the school lunches in Japanese elementary school so well is because we, the kids, had to serve them. The class was divided into 7 han or groups, and each han took turns being the servers. The lunch stuff was wheeled to each classroom on big trolleys - big pots, steel containers with individual servings of noodles, milk cartons on a lower level, bowls and trays and utensils. We would don hairnet-type caps or scarves around our heads, wear white coveralls, and ladle out the day’s offerings. I think things like curry, udon, nimono (stewed vegetables and chicken), and - again - spaghetti with meat sauce were regular items. We especially looked forward to curry day - one boy in my han in 6th grade used to purposefully hold back a bit from each serving, so he would be sure of there being some left over in the big pot. He’d rush through his first helping and go back for seconds before anyone else could. Anyway, in retrospect I think that the school lunch serving duties were considered to be part of our education, though the term shokuiku (see previous article) was not yet in vogue. (We also had cleaning duty, also done by each han on a rotating schedule, after the end of classes every day.)
In elementary school, bento lunches were not banned, but I think only a couple of kids brought lunch from home (I can’t remember why). Parents had to pay a school lunch fee anyway, and it was more fun to eat what everyone else was eating. These days, kids still have to do lunch-serving duty (kyuushoku tohban). My nephew Lyoh still gets hungry after playing sports after school, so my sister makes him a bento too. This page has a photo of 1st graders on school lunch serving duty, and this page shows the whole lunch-serving process.
But anyway - what do you think about that school banning lunches from home? Has anything like that happened at the school your kids go to? Are school lunches really healthier than lunch made at home? How do you feel about that judgement being made on you as a mom or dad?
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