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Japan's School Lunch Program Puts Others to Shame

The country ensures lunch is delicious, healthy, and part of the curriculum.
Students serve each other lunch at a Tokyo elementary school.
Students serve each other lunch at a Tokyo elementary school. Toru Takahashi/AP

Do efforts to feed students help improve their performance in school? Mick Mulvaney, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, grabbed headlines Thursday when he argued in favor of cutting federal funds to programs that provide food to poor students. His justification: There’s “no demonstrable evidence” that the programs help them do better in school.

Tell that to Japan, where more than 10 million kids receive delicious, fresh food every school day, in large part because the country considers lunch part of a child’s education, not a break from school. What students there receive is a far cry from the processed, reheated meals you’d find in American schools. Picture a tray filled with fish with pear sauce, mashed potatoes, and vegetable soup. The ingredients come from local farmers or the school’s farm, and a team of cooks made the dishes that morning.