National School Lunch Program

Building Skills and Habits for Healthy and Sustainable Eating in Childhood in Japan

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At a Glance

  • Over 10 million children in Japan receive delicious, nutritious fresh meals every school day
  • Delicious and nutritious meals are cooked from scratch on-site using whole food ingredients, often from local farms and school gardens
  • Lessons Learnt: government policy and support and integration into curriculum are key factors for success.

School lunches in Japan typically feature soups, vegetables, fish, meat and rice cooked on site with fresh, whole food ingredients. All students are served the same meal and lunch is eaten together in the classroom as around a family table. School lunches are seen as part of official curriculum with opportunities for shokuiku  (food and nutrition education), teamwork, community service and building food literacy. Students take responsibility for setting up tables, fetching food from the school kitchen, serving and clean up. This regular involvement with food is seen as creating an appreciation for food and healthy eating habits for the long term. Many schools have school farms allowing students to experience the entire cycle from seed to plate. Seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms are often identified and celebrated building a connection to and appreciation for local food and agriculture.


There was a gradual progression of government policies resulting in the current national lunch program:

  • Late 19th Century: some schools provide lunches for low-income children
  • 1954: Following WWII, the School Lunch Act institutes a nationwide program
  • 1970s: Lunch menus shift from foods donated by other countries (such as skim milk and bread) to traditional Japanese menus featuring soups, vegetables, fish, meat and rice
  • 2005: Government enacts law on Shokuiku, food and nutrition education, to be included in all schools
  • 2007: Government advocates for hiring nutrition and dietetics teachers and a small percentage of schools create these positions

Research suggests that schools with Diet and Nutrition teachers have seen a positive impact “in terms of awareness and interest in diet among teachers and guardians…the proportion of children skipping breakfast has decreased, and quality of life has been improved” and that school lunches “play a role in reducing disparities in the diets of children from households with various incomes.”  

What Else? Other Relevant Examples

Successful school food programs include those supported by government, non-governmental organizations, and community groups:

  • Brazil: Brazil has had a mandatory school food program since 1955 and as of 2009, government policy requires that at least 30% of food ingredients used for the program were organic products from local farms. Learn More…
  • United Kingdom: Food for Life is an independent, non-governmental certification for healthy, sustainable food in institutions including schools that provides resources for schools to make the transition to good food. Their “unique, whole school approach makes a positive contribution to pupil health and wellbeing.” Learn More…
  • Canada: In the absence of government policy and supports, community groups such as Better School Food Nova Scotia are working towards enabling cafeteria staff “to prepare healthy, nourishing meals for students using as much locally produced food as possible.” Many schools in the region have improved menus, added salad bars and seen an increase in student fruit and vegetable consumption. Learn More…

Food for Thought
What are ways that you can help make sustainable and healthy food part of menus where you work?
What will encourage decision makers in your organization or community to see the value of providing healthy and sustainable food?

Contact Information
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)
Address: 3-2-2 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8959, Japan
Phone: +81-3-5253-4111