Its been a long time since I was in elementary school, but I don’t I recall anyone ever saying they were looking forward to their school’s lunch.  I hear they’ve improved since I was kid, but I’m guessing you still can’t really call them balanced, nutritious, or delicious.  In Korea, since all students, staff and teachers eat together, school lunch is something I actually look forward to as I find them really tasty and quite healthy.  While there’s variety in what ingredients are used each day, there’s always a soup of some sort, a vegetable, a protein, kimchi, rice, and either a piece of fruit, fruit juice, or yogurt.  In other words, a pretty balanced meal.

Perhaps part of the reason public school lunches are better than American lunches is they aren’t free (with the exception of Seoul, where after much controversy in 2011, free lunches are now provided to all elementary and middle school students).  As a teacher in a rural school, 3,000 won (just under $2) is deducted from my paycheck per meal and students pay roughly 40,000 won per month.  Eating the school’s lunch is not mandatory, but I really don’t see how I could pack a lunch that would be just as good for any cheaper.  I also think it helps that the smaller of my two schools has a large vegetable garden, providing the freshest ingredients.

Rice cakes, spicy red pepper paste for the bimbimbap, kimchi, yogurt drink, bibimbap, and tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Sweet and spicy rice cakes, spicy red pepper paste for the bibimbap, kimchi, yogurt drink, bibimbap, and a tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Sauteed tofu, kimchi, a slice of Korean melon, green beans with dried shrimp, rice and kimchi and pork soup.

Sauteed tofu, kimchi, a Korean melon, green beans with dried shrimp, rice, and a kimchi and pork stew.

Kimchi, fried fish fellets (they don't ever debone fish here), pickels and radish, grapes, bibimbap and tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Kimchi, fried fish fillets (they don’t ever de-bone fish here, by the way), pickles and radishes, grapes, rice and a beef and vegetable soup.

At both of my schools, students are served by "lunch ladies" and each homeroom class sits together with their teacher in the lunch hall. Some schools have a buffet style and eat in their homeroom classrooms.

At both of my schools, students and teachers are served by “lunch ladies” and each homeroom class sits together with their teacher in the lunch hall. I have heard some schools serve lunch buffet style and eat in their homeroom classrooms.

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