When snack time begins at 3 p.m at Fukasawa Mill Nursery School, expectant children come running into the lunchroom where nutritionist Tomoko Ikeda waits, asking, "What are we having today?"
Ever since she was an elementary school student, Ikeda loved to eat and also observe her mother cooking. After studying cooking in high school, she gained certification as a nutritionist at a vocational school. She thought that she could make it a "job for life."
After graduation, she worked at a hospital, a nursing home for the elderly, and then at a special-care facility for children where she came down with a hernia. It was caused by holding heavy pots for long periods while standing all the time in the chilly kitchen.
She says there were times when she was not sure whether she could go on.
But she was heartened at the speed of the children’s development. Children who could not swallow baby food went on to eat solid food and ask for second servings.
After her contract with the special-care facility ended, she wanted to continue to work at a place where she came into contact with children and joined a nursery school.
Ikeda’s mother used to work part time at a school kitchen for a period. For a snack, her mother would often make her deep-fried bread dusted with "kinako," or toasted soybean flour, which she also served at the school.
For dinner, Ikeda often asked her mother to make simmered "koya-dofu," freeze-dried tofu. She loved the flavor of the dashi stock that flowed from the tofu when she took a bite.
This week, Ikeda introduces a snack that combines the two ingredients. Both toasted soybean flour and freeze-dried tofu are "ingredients that are plain yet nutritious."
When the tofu is deep fried, soaked with black syrup and dusted with soybean flour, the texture comes to resemble snack food. When Ikeda serves it as a snack at Fukasawa Mill Nursery School in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, children line up for second servings.
"Eating time is when we can increase the children’s amount of experience the most," says Ikeda, 43.
Each day, the children taste the lunch and snacks by using all their five senses.
"We hope to work on the recipes and help the children grow up," says Ikeda.
(Serves two adults and two children)
2 freeze-dried tofu
3 Tbsp each of toasted soybean flour, sugar and black syrup (kuromitsu)
Some katakuriko starch and frying oil
Reconstitute freeze-dried tofu, squeeze out water and cut into sticks.
Dust sticks with katakuriko starch and fry in oil heated to 180 degrees.
Pour black syrup on fried tofu and mix. Once the syrup has seeped in, dust with mixture of soybean flour and sugar.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column