I canceled my school lunch

Before I moved to Japan, I was asked if I wanted to have school lunch. I instantly said yes for a few reasons. One, I don’t know how to cook all that well (and don’t have the energy to learn) and two, I wanted to eat something genuinely Japanese while in Japan. I opted in.

I decided to cancel my school lunch in July, right before we went on summer “break”. I told my supervisor that I didn’t want to get school lunch when we came back from summer break, which means that when I go back to school at the end of the month, it will be with my own boxed lunch. Have I learned how to cook since the last time I posted about food? Not really

So why did I cancel my school lunch? Well, before I answer that, let me show you some pictures of the delicacies I am giving up.

School lunches in Japan are serious business, as most things are. They are apparently created by a nutritionist so they are very nicely balanced.

Most of the time, I know when I will go hungry and when I might get a stomach ache. My stomach aches tend to happen on kindergarten days since those schools tend to serve me a lot of food. I’m not sure if this is a “oh, they’re an adult and need more food” or an “oh, they’re American and probably eat two adult servings with room to spare”

The picture with the blue plate is the one from my kindergarten. They usually have fun trays

Also, I eat rice 4 out of 5 days of the school week. FOUR! I probably ate rice four times a year back home and hardly ever plain white rice. But rice is a staple in Eastern Asian countries (probably other Asian countries too but I’m not 100% sure).

Aside from the rice, we are also almost always (95% of the time) served some sort of soup, a salad, and a type of protein. A piece of protein that an average-sized hand could fit in a fist very nicely. Now, some schools don’t let you touch the food. The serving staff measures everything out and everyone in the office gets the same amount of food. Fair, yes, except that then you realize how little Japanese people eat… Those are my elementary schools

My Junior High schools are a bit different. We serve ourselves and depending on the school, you might get a bigger portion of food for the staff. I have two JHs. With JH #1, I have to be careful with my servings because the group portion is much smaller. With JH #2, I can serve myself more food and sometimes there’s still extras at the end (after everyone has been served, we are allowed to get seconds if there are extras)

Now, back to the original question, why did I cancel my school lunch?

The truth is that I am still conflicted because I love and slightly dislike my school lunch. I love the soup, I love the salad, and I generally enjoy the protein. Not always. Sometimes it’s a fish with bones or a head and I refuse to eat those. It’s usually not a big deal either, but one time I had to smuggle these full-bodied fish into my pocket when the teacher insisted I eat them.

I get it, I had to be a good example for the kids, but no. This was actually the moment that made me go “ok, I’m canceling” because I didn’t want to be put in that situation. Also, this happened at one of my kindergartens, which are the only schools where I eat with my kids (for COVID reasons). My other schools don’t really care if we don’t finish our food. Or at least us ALTs

Do I always finish my food? Yes, about 98% of the time, minus my milk, which I take home.

I also don’t like rice, especially not enough to eat it throughout the week and have it be the item I used to truly fill up. Actually, I was starting to get physically sick eating rice all the time. This was something I noticed a few months in. And milk. I don’t drink it. I’m lactose intolerant and while I will make many exceptions for desserts, I don’t drink milk unless it’s mixed in cereal (which I don’t eat) or in a milkshake (hardly drink). So I would always take my milk home, let them expire, and then throw them out

And as much as I love the variety and excess of kindergarten lunches, they were also often cold so that the kids wouldn’t get burned. Eating a cold omelet is the worst. Also, the amount was too much. During the last academic year, I’d asked them to serve me less food because I think going from playing to eating was really messing with my stomach. There were maybe 2-3 days when I threw out almost all of my food because I couldn’t work up an appetite

But then they started serving me a lot again once the new school year started up in April

So yeah, I decided to cancel my school lunch because I honestly thought there were more cons than pros. It wasn’t very expensive to have a school lunch. My monthly bill could be anything from $3,000 yen to $5,000 yen depending on how many days I got school lunch (some months are much shorter because of holidays) and I will miss not having to worry about packing a lunch, but maybe this is a good opportunity to learn something.

Also, an opportunity to stress. I’m used to eating freshly made food, not making something on Sunday, and spreading it out through the week. And the food I make is…well, not as presentable and easy to pack. Not to mention that it’s not as balanced. I mean, I eat ice cream almost daily…

But we’ll see what happens.

– G

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