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Japanese dietitians get taste of school cafeteria cuisine

August 31, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenhh@herald-mail.com

More vegetables, less salt and smaller portions.

That's the prescription offered Tuesday by a group of Japanese dietitians who visited several Washington County Public Schools.

"They wished more portions of fresh vegetables would be served," said Fumiyo Jenkins, a Japanese Travelers Service Inc. interpreter, as she and members of a Japanese delegation ate lunch in a small conference room at South Hagerstown High School.

About a dozen dietitians from Japan visited the school system as part of a 10-day tour of American schools that included stops in Boston and Washington, D.C. They took pictures of kitchen equipment and strolled through walk-in freezers and storage rooms before trying out Tuesday's specials - clux delux and spicy clux delux chicken sandwiches - at South High.

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The delegation dipped fresh broccoli and cherry tomatoes in ranch and Italian dressing - members said they normally eat their vegetables cooked - and chowed down on American student staples, such as tater tots, pepperoni pizza and brownies.

They also visited E. Russell Hicks Middle School and Emma K. Doub Elementary School, said Gary Dodds, the school system's supervisor of food and nutrition services.

Ogawa Tatsuya said through Jenkins that the Japanese government is studying how American schools manage federal nutrition programs. The Japanese government is implementing nutrition education in its elementary and middle schools, Tatsuya said. Tatsuya is a specialist in the school health education division in Japan.

According to Tatsuya, very few children in Japan qualify for free meals. About 40 percent of elementary school students and one-fourth of high school students in Washington County last year were eligible for free and reduced-price meals as part of the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service's School Meals program.

Japanese students all eat lunches prepared at their schools, Jenkins said. Japanese students have less choices about what to eat than American students, but the culture encourages conformity, Jenkins said.

"Almost all the students love cafeteria food," Mariko Morita said. Japanese students eat more vegetables and smaller portions than their American peers, and chocolate milk is not an option, she said.

A question about the meal's nutritional value drew hearty laughs from the delegation of Japanese dietitians.

They showed their appreciation in other ways. Trays were emptied, and American dollars broken. Though Dodds told the delegation the meal was on the house, the visitors insisted they pay.

"It is our wish that you receive this. Thank you very much for your hospitality," Jenkins said. "It was a great meal."

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