The open-ceilinged canteen at Fukasawa Mill Nursery School in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward is a sunlit, expansive place. At lunchtime, pupils holding trays line up at a counter where Tomoko Ikeda and others stand ready.
When serving the salad, the 43-year-old nutritionist asks each child, "Shall I serve less?" or "Can you eat bell peppers?"
Since the nursery school opened two years ago, the children have been allowed to refuse food they do not like. This policy comes from the teachers’ wish for "the children to become fond of food first."
But while there are children who ask for less food or "just one piece," almost no one says, "I don’t want any." There is also hardly any left over.
This is made possible by the efforts of Ikeda and her colleagues who work on the daily recipes. If the children show a poor appetite for a dish, they look closely and talk to the children to see whether the reason is the ingredient, the flavor or the texture. They also hold "lunch conferences" with the nursery teachers and incorporate the findings in the menu and cooking procedure.
This week Ikeda introduces a recipe that is intended to help children who have just joined the nursery get used to fresh vegetables. How can they prompt children who do not like salads to eat them? They decided to add strawberries, which children like, to create a "special feel" and prevent them from saying they dislike the salad before tasting it.
They also gave a twist to the dressing. Although it is believed that children dislike sour food, the dressing turns milder if apple vinegar is used. And the grated onion pulls the whole salad together. Many children say they "love" this dressing, and their parents often ask them for the recipe.
Not only is the flavor important, but also the way the vegetables are cut holds the key. If the leafy vegetables are served as they are, children, who are not used to chewing by grinding their teeth together, tend to avoid them. When the fresh spring cabbage is cut into fine strips, children will find the crunchy texture much easier to chew on.
After graduating from a vocational school, Tomoko Ikeda worked as a nutritionist for nine and a half years at a hospital, nursing home for the elderly and a special-care facility. In 2009, she switched jobs and started working at Sakurashinmachi Nursery School, an authorized nursery school in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.
In the fall of 2017, she moved to the affiliated Fukasawa Mill Nursery School. She has co-written a book whose title translates to "No more picky eating: Popular lunch recipes at Sakurashinmachi Nursery School."
(Serves two adults and two children)
4 cabbage leaves
2 Tbsp corn kernels from can
1/4 pack strawberries
Small piece of onion
Seasoning A (1/2 tsp salt, little less than 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp apple vinegar, 2 Tbsp salad oil)
Rinse cabbage, cucumber and carrot. Peel carrot. Cut vegetables into fine strips.
Hull strawberries, rinse and quarter lengthwise. Grate onion.
Mix grated onion (3 grams) and Seasoning A thoroughly to make dressing.
Mix corn, strips of vegetables and strawberries. Pour dressing and mix.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column