What’s On the Lunch Menu?

You know you’re in Korea when you’re eating fried roots of water lilies instead of french fries for school lunch. Fried water lily roots are among many of the side dishes I eat for lunch on a daily basis at school.

Fried Water Lily Root

In over a year that I have lived in Korea there has not been one day when the lunch menu is the same.  Yes, there is always kimchi and rice.  Basically, lunch consists of rice, soup, meat, vegetables and several other side dishes.  Not once has the combination of food been the same and there are still days where I have to ask my co-teacher what something is.  Usually the answer is some sort of mushroom, root, seafood, or vegetable, but it is never “mystery meat.” Not once have I been served pizza or french fries and not once have I ever been sick from a school lunch here.  I also pay less than $2 USD a day for this lunch.   School lunch is a huge part of Korean culture that I have neglected to write about until now.

After reading a NY Times article about school lunch reform in the US, I was shocked (well not that shocked) to learn that currently a can of tomato paste on pizza is considered one serving of vegetables in the US public schools lunch program.   You can read the article here : http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/02/us/school-lunch-proposals-set-off-a-dispute.html?pagewanted=all I would say it’s about time for a complete reform on America’s lunch program.  If most calories students consume are from school lunch and a third of children in America are obese, then these schools need to step up, take responsibility, and start serving better lunches.  If public schools in Seoul are able to serve freshly cooked food everyday to a huge population of students  (much greater than in New York City for example), and at no cost to the students, there are other ways of preparing fresh food for schools without breaking the bank and we need to explore these options.

At the beginning of last year I read this article that ranked school lunches around the world.  Korea ranks number 2 next to Japan. Here’s the link: http://todayilearned.co.uk/2011/04/20/what-kids-of-the-world-eat-at-school/

In the pictures you will see what a typical lunch looks like that I eat everyday.  Today I ate rice, spicy egg soup, kimchi, fried tofu, fried water lily roots, dried seaweed, and fresh cabbage picked straight from the schools’ garden.  Everything is freshly cooked and prepared that morning and there is rarely much that goes to waste since in Korean culture it is frowned upon to leave food on your plate.  (I’ve learned that if I know I don’t like something not to take too much~)  The food is served in stainless steel trays and eaten with silverware.  (Don’t even get me started on the styrofoam trays used in the US). I know it’s impossible for America to be like any other country and adopt their traditional foods but can we at least get some veggies on the school menu? And I’m talking more than a salad bar with iceberg lettuce!

P.S. This is my 100th blog post! Woohoo!


3 responses

  1. Perhaps you can lead a lunch reform crusade in the U.S. In New Haven, CT, it’s difficult to get any vegetation other than lettuce, tomato or salsa.

  2. Hi Jen,

    Interesting …. I would like to try some water lily roots, bet they are pretty crunchy!! I am a little behind in reading your updates so stay tuned for more comments from me on some previous posts.

    Congratulations on your 100th post!!

    Aunt Diane

  3. You would have to do away with unions,regulations,and high fat treats, to get a good lunch in the USA. Imagine tomato sauce as a vegetable – too much! I do like the stainless steel trays and silverware. It certainly is more environmentally responsible. I also like the Korean way of not wasting food. Good insights!! Mary Ann

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