In most high schools, school lunches are not provided, and students bring their own. Some bring bento 《→bento 弁当 boxed lunch》 from home or purchase simple luncheon items on sale in a shop opened within the school or at a nearby store. Schools may also have a lunchroom and cafeteria. Meals sold in the lunchrooms or cafeterias are comparatively inexpensive and are well-balanced in terms of nutrition and calorie content. Menus with standard meals (teishoku) are the norm.
School lunches are provided in public elementary and junior high schools, and special education schools (for children with disabilities). School suppers are provided in public part-time high schools. Part of the cost is borne by the student.
Meals are usually prepared in the school kitchen following a menu drawn up by a trained nutritionist. School lunches prepared at a local school-lunch center are delivered to elementary and junior high schools without school-lunch kitchens of their own.
Students eat in the classroom and are responsible for serving and distributing the food and clearing up. 《→han 班 groups, nitchoku 日直 class day-leaders, kakari 係り person in charge, toban 当番 person on duty》
School lunches were introduced in the period after the end of World War II when many people suffered from lack of nutrition. Students pay part of the costs. Until about twenty years ago, the main staple served was bread, but today more than 99% of schools have included rice in the diet.
Today the educational objectives of school lunches in elementary and junior high school are to foster proper eating habits and table manners, to enjoy eating with friends and to learn how to cooperate through serving, clearing away, etc.
Recently, some schools have been trying to add flexibility by designating certain days as "boxed lunch days" or allowing the students some choice in a cafeteria-style arrangement.
In 2000, school meals were provided in 97.7% of elementary schools, 84.6% of junior high schools and 95.9% of part-time night schools.