Today I asked one of my students if I could take his picture and tell you about the custom of "Lunch Monitor" in Japan.
In most elementary schools in Japan, lunch is prepared in the school kitchens and all students are required to eat the school lunch. No bag lunches are allowed which is handy for the mothers and gives the kids a chance to acquire a taste for different dishes. A monthly menu is handed out just so mothers won't give their family the same evening meal I suppose. I always found the menus handy for planning my own meals though some of the combinations were a bit odd. Grilled fish and sweet buns for instance. Even though the schools have kitchens, they don't have a lunch room which means that each class eats lunch in their own classroom. According Yasuaki, there are 8 lunch monitors for each class (average 30 kids to a class) and each child takes a one week turn.
At lunch time, the monitors suit up in their white coats, hats and masks and head for the kitchens where pots are placed on carts along with dishes, bowls, trays, chopsticks and cartons of milk. The children roll the cart back to their classroom and then the rest of the class lines up in front of the cart. Each child gets a tray with the dishes etc.on it and then the lunch monitors divvy up the day's menu. This takes some skill. Yasuaki-kun said that you have to be careful that the people at the beginning of the line aren't given too much so that the people at the end of the line get gypped. Sometimes they have to recall some of the people who have been served too much which means no one is allowed to eat until all are equally served and seated. Then everyone says "Itadakimasu!" (roughly translated as "We gratefully partake") and finally everyone can eat.
When my kids were in school I remember that there was a rule that you could leave one thing on your plate (but only one) if you didn't like it. This was a real headache for Leiya who was a picky eater. Leave the vegetables, the fish or the salad today? Nowadays, Yasuaki-kun said that most teachers won't let you leave anything or at the very most you must divide the portion and not touch part of it so that you can give it to someone who likes it and you must eat your small portion. I asked some of the neighbor boys what their favorite school lunch was and unanimously the answer was "Curry Rice!" When I asked what they liked least there were a variety of answers, "Seaweed salad!" "Cheese!" "Sweet Bean Jelly!" You can see that school lunch is somewhat different from American school lunches!
After lunch is finished all the dishes and trays are returned to the cart and the monitors take it back to the kitchen. The kids all get out their toothbrushes then and give their teeth a quick brush before going about their academic day. On Fridays the lunch monitors take their white jackets and hats home in a little bag and the mothers wash them over the weekend and they are brought back and passed to the next monitor on Monday morning. A very efficient system don't you think?
At the pre-school where I teach lunches are also made for the children but each lunch is pre-served on dishes and brought to the classroom by cart. On the day I took this picture they were having a slice of salmon, broccoli and mayonnaise, carrot and burdock root, rice, miso soup and a canned pear slice. Yum!