Japanese School Lunches: 34 Day Menu

japanese school lunches lead

The mythical and romantic notions of Japanese respect, honor, and responsibility can be condensed into their public school lunches.

Locally-sourced foods. Served by the students themselves donning proper hair nets, aprons, gloves, and face masks. Balanced meals with full disclosure of food origins, ingredients, and nutrition.

And no cafeteria.

All food is eaten in the homeroom. All portions are equal. While not mandatory, unless a student has a food allergy, what's served for lunch is what you're eating. No option B. No packed lunches from home. No vending machines. And absolutely no waste of food, hence the frequent trading of one likeable side dish for another.

In many ways, school lunch time in Japan is basically a class. The homeroom teacher talks about upcoming classroom events. Student Council members over the PA system talk about school news and trivia. The teacher converses with the students in a less formal manner.

And the students get to be students: the quiet ones eating silently, the class clowns cracking jokes with each other or the teacher, and the rest adding their personal flair.

It's a well-disguised education in teamwork, efficiency, and duty. In one word: community.  

The Anatomy of a School Lunch

Japanese public school lunches are served in elementary and middle school. High schoolers get their freedom.

The meals consist of carbs (usually rice), a variety of protein sources, a side of vegetables, soup (usually miso), a glass of milk, and the occasional fruit. There's not a lot of processed sugar unless for special holidays. Even then, it's done in moderation.

Besides the domestic cuisines, meals are also cultural ranging from Chinese to French to American.

Calories range from 650 to 850 with the average from our 34-day sample at 782 calories. Continue reading for detailed information and ratings & reviews below.

Special thanks to our resident photographer Tom Taylor for providing these excellent photos and being a special contributor to the project.


Japanese School Lunch Day 1

Day 1 

Menu:
Protein: Nikujaga (meat & potatoes) 
Veggies: Bean sprout salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Daikon miso
Drink: Milk
Condiments: Nori
Calories: 681

Your typical healthy Japanese school lunch meal. Like a classmate who's sat behind you all those years and you never bothered to turn around. 

Rating: 5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 2

Day 2 

Menu:
Protein: Roast pork in onion sauce
Veggies: Mixed salad with shirasu (baby fish)
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Nara-style vegetable miso
Drink: Milk
Calories: 768

Pork, onions, and mushrooms? Victory dance. 

Rating: 7.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 3

Day 3

Menu:
Protein: Stir-fried pork and peppers
Veggies: Daikon salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Corn miso
Drink: Milk
Snack: Pumpkin pudding
Calories: 729

Good meal with a nice (Halloween) dessert. Although I'm used to the why-am-I-doing-this-again torture of candy corn.

Rating: 7 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 4

Day 4 

Menu:
Protein: Deep-fried fish (hoki) 
Veggies: Mixed vegetables
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Potato miso
Drink: Milk
Snack: Natto (fermented beans)
Calories: 761

Natto is a hit or miss for some people. Appropriate adjectives include boogery, dirty socky, and soapy. But deep-fried fish goodness for the win.

Rating: 7.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 5

Day 5

Menu:
Protein: Fried tofu with mushroom sauce
Veggies: Kimchi mixed veggies
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Sweet potato miso
Drink: Milk
Calories: 790

Meat lovers avert your eyes. It's soy today. But nice soup and, again, there's shrooms.  

Rating: 6 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 6

Day 6

Menu:
Protein: Oden (Japanese winter stew: eggs, daikon, konjac, fishcakes, etc.) 
Veggies: Dried squid and cabbage
Carbs: Shiso-seasoned rice
Soup: Tofu miso
Drink: Milk
Calories: 644

Yes! Love oden and the shiso gives the rice a sweet and sour kick. If you haven't had oden yet, then you're missing out half of the experience that is Japan (fact).

Rating: 8.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 7

Day 7

Menu:
Protein: Foil-wrapped salmon
Veggies: Kiriboshi daikon and veggies
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Japanese vegetables in clear broth
Drink: Milk
Snack: Apple
Calories: 872

Love the fish. Meh on the veggies. At least we finish strong with an apple. Seriously, fruit is sweet in Japan. Is this what happens when you allow fruit to grow naturally? Must resist such crazy thinking. Back to my fruit concentrate!   

Rating: 7 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 8

Day 8

Menu:
Protein: Shrimp dumplings
Veggies: Komu with mixed veggies
Carbs: Fried Rice
Soup: Wonton
Drink: Milk
Calories: 704

Yea, Chinese-themed meal. Love the wonton soup. Shrimp dumplings are a bit dry. Was hoping for a fortune cookie. 03-34-23-08-49-17.

Rating: 8 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 9

Day 9 

Menu:
Protein: Japanese curry
Veggies: French salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Japanese curry
Drink: Milk
Snack: Pudding
Calories: 875

Japan has its own spin on curry and it's great. Pudding gets me everytime. 

Rating: 8.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 10

Day 10 

Menu:
Protein: Rainbow trout
Veggies: Vermicelli salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Tonjiru (pork miso) 
Drink: Milk
Snack: Sweet potato tart
Calories: 986

Great tasting fish. Nice soup. Very good tart. I'm getting used to having this sugary desserts.

Rating: 8.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 11

Day 11 

Menu:
Protein: Mapo dofu (tofu in spicy black bean sauce)
Veggies: Daikon scallop salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Egg soup
Drink: Milk
Calories: 756

Nooooo! Rather bland especially when compared to the previous two meals. Law of averages, why must you defeat me?

Rating: 5.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 12

Day 12 

Menu:
Protein: Stir-fried pork, daikon, and tofu. 
Veggies: Mixed veggies with sesame dressing
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Wakame seaweed
Drink: Milk
Calories: 754

Sesame dressing has deep taste. Soup is nice. Everything else standard fare. If I see one more rice bowl...

Rating: 5.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 13

Day 13

Menu:
Protein: Seasoned chicken
Veggies: Corn salad
Carbs: Udon
Soup: Veggie udon borth
Drink: Milk
Calories: 831

Noodles, finally! Chicken a bit small. But NOODLES!

Rating: 8 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 14

Day 14

Menu:
Protein: Curry-season grilled saba (mackerel)
Veggies: Okara (soybean curd) mixed with carrots, burdock root, and mushrooms.
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Miso
Drink: Milk
Snack: Tangerine
Calories: 796

Okara is surprisingly delicious (thanks to soy sauce and mirin). Can't go wrong with grilled fish. Although listed as a tangerine, Japanese mikan is a unique member of the citrus family. Small, sweet, and juicy and easy to peel by hand.

Rating: 7 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 15

Day 15

Menu:
Protein: Hamburger
Veggies: Sea vegetable salad
Carbs: Bread
Soup: Corn
Drink: Milk
Snack: Pineapple jelly
Calories: 611

Hey, a Western meal. Pretty good, but meat is a bit small. Bread is a bit dry. And sea veggie salad doesn't mix well. Could have been better.

Rating: 7.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 16

Day 16

Menu:
Protein: Fried chicken with tartar sauce
Veggies: Potato salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Miso with gluten dumplings
Drink: Milk
Calories: 796

Hello beautiful. A little bit of greasy chicken countered with complementary healthy side dish. Gluten dumplings nudges it to the top.

Rating: 9 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 17

Day 17

Menu:
Protein: Weiner and veggie stir fry
Fruits: Fruit salad (tangerine, pineapple, and cream)
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Veggie miso
Drink: Milk
Calories: 836

Love the fruit salad. Like the veggie miso stew. Lukewarm with the protein, but Spam or hot dog lovers should like it.

Rating: 6.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 17

Day 18

Menu:
Protein: Minced-meat katsu (fried) 
Veggies: Nori and mixed veggie salad
Carbs: Takikomi gohan (Japanese mixed rice)
Soup: Tofu
Drink: Milk
Calories: 719

Good combination. Takikomi gohan is very delicate that mixes well with the deep fried goodness of the katsu and the subtle saltiness of the nori salad.

Rating: 7.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 18

Day 19

Menu:
Protein: Minced chicken with grated daikon
Veggies: Sweet potato salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Green veggie and mushroom soup
Drink: Milk
Calories: 735

You can never go wrong with chicken and sweet potato. The salad is mixed with Japanese mayo which is different from the rest of its cousins A bit more sour and umami kick.

Rating: 8 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 19

Day 20

Menu:
Protein: Deep-fried tofu with oyster sauce
Veggies: Pickled veggies
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Egg drop soup
Drink: Milk
Calories: 810

Tasty tofu mixed with pork, shrooms, and oyster sauce. Nice soup.

Rating: 7 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 20

Day 21

Menu:
Protein: Lemon sauce chicken
Veggies: Vermicelli noodles
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Pork miso
Drink: Milk
Calories: 824

Lemony chicken goodness.

Rating: 7.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 21

Day 22

Menu:
Protein: Stir-fried pork salad
Veggies: Boiled sweet potatoes
Carbs: Udon
Soup: Mushroom udon broth
Drink: Milk
Calories: 826

Hearty meal. Nice touch with sweet potatoes. There's a lot of noodle types all over Asia, and this author has tried many of them. Udon has a wonderfully chewy texture and a neutral taste to absorb any soup or stir-fried flavor. 

Rating: 8 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 22

Day 23

Menu:
Protein: Grilled salmon with herbs
Veggies: Cabbage and cucumber salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Pork curry
Drink: Milk
Calories: 835

Curry and salmon? Hey, it works! +1000 point bonus.

Rating: 9 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 23

Day 24

Menu:
Protein: Meatballs in sweet soy sauce
Veggies: Kombu and daikon salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Sweet potato
Drink: Milk
Calories: 782

Hello, beef, it's me. I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meat.

Rating: 8 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 24

Day 25

Menu:
Protein: Stewed pork and veggies
Veggies: Bean sprout and cucumber salad
Carbs: Wakame-sprinkled rice
Soup: Pork miso soup
Drink: Milk
Snack: Apple
Calories: 685

Well-rounded meal. Flavored-rice gives it a nice kick. Someone remind me to write an article about rice topping seasonings.

Rating: 6.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 25

Day 26

Menu:
Protein: Gyoza (dumplings) 
Veggies: Banbaji (chicken) salad
Carbs: Ramen
Soup: Miso ramen
Drink: Milk
Calories: 764

Good, but could have been great. Dumplings were bland. Still no fortune cookies.

Rating: 7 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 26

Day 27

Menu:
Protein: Grilled mackerel with miso paste
Veggies: Potato salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Veggie Miso
Drink: Milk
Snack: Mochi ice cream
Calories: 817

Ice cream! Grilled fish and potato salad go really well together. Mochi (gelatinous rice cake) filled with ice cream is chewy, creamy, and a sweet pleasure.

Rating: 8 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 27

Day 28

Menu:
Protein: Fried chicken
Veggies: Kiriboshi (dried veggies) daikon and pork
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Mushroom miso
Drink: Milk
Calories: 724

Nice balance of traditional and Western flair.

Rating: 7.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 28

Day 29

Menu:
Protein: Miso fried chicken nuggets
Veggies: Cabbage salad with ume (plum) dressing
Carbs: Mushroom fried rice
Soup: Miso
Drink: Milk
Calories: 763

Wow. Miso chicken nuggets is a sleeper hit. More mushrooms in rice, please.

Rating: 8 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 29

Day 30

Menu:
Protein: Broiled marlin
Veggies: Mixed veggie salad with sesame dressing
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Daikon miso
Drink: Milk
Snack: Tangerine
Calories: 719

Simple but good.

Rating: 7 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 31

Day 31

Menu:
Protein: Rice-wrapped dumplings
Veggies: Burdock root salad
Carbs: Udon
Soup: Curry broth
Drink: Milk
Calories: 850

Unique entree. Good pairings all around. It's hard not to fall in love with burdock root when prepared properly (salty mayo).

Rating: 8.5 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 32

Day 32

Menu:
Protein: Stir-fried pork and leek
Veggies: Daikon salad
Carbs: Rice
Soup: Tofu miso
Drink: Milk
Snack: Sweet black beans
Calories: 695

Leeks, they're so chic. Such peak flavor they make me shriek.

Rating: 6 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 33

Day 33

Menu:
Protein: Mini gratin
Veggies: Coleslaw
Carbs: Bread
Soup: Cream stew
Drink: Milk
Calories: 740

Cheesy and creamy heaven. Today's theme is French. Wine or grape juice would have been appreciated.

Rating: 9 of 10.


Japanese School Lunch Day 34

Day 34

Menu:
Protein: Omelette
Veggies: Vegetable medley
Carbs: Tomato rice
Soup: Chicken soup
Drink: Milk
Snack: Cake
Calories: 681

Special holiday meal. Good feeling all around. Time to bust out a tune of "Last Christmas."

Rating: 9 of 10.


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