Who pays for kyushoku?

One of the things people often ask me about school lunches around the world is how the meals are funded. But there are as many different formulas as there are countries—everything from full government subsidy for everyone (universality) to international relief agencies providing the food,  to fees more and/or less shared between parents and local governments.

In Japan (which I’ve been writing about all week), families and local governments share the cost. Parents of elementary school students pay an average of about  $44. (Cdn.) per month for kyushoku (that’s approximately $2 a day). My friend from Osaka recalls her family paid $50 for her daughter a few years ago and when she was a child her own parents contributed $25/month.

According to a 2008 study produced by the UK’s School Food Trust, these fees cover about 1/3 of the cost of the meal; the rest is paid by local government. Help is also available for low income families who apply for subsidy (this no doubt will increase as poverty rates rise in Japan—something, according to this article, that is happening right now).

In addition to fees, Japanese schools ensure parental engagement by distributing a monthly menu highlighting where the food comes from as well as the calories and nutritional value of the dishes (dieticians create the menu). The government encourages schools and catering companies to source at least half of the ingredients locally. Parents also have a chance to participate in kyushoku taste tests twice a year! Sounds good to me—especially when the food is fresh, local and tasty.

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