Healthy Meals for Kids – Japanese Style

Tips for a Healthy Family – Japanese Style

Summary & Review of Moryama and Doyle.

Japan are the undisputed world champions of Healthy Life Expectancy for both men and women. Japan also has the lowest child obesity levels in the world – despite their society facing the same temptations as ours such as too much screen time and junk food. So is there anything we in Scotland can learn from Japanese attitudes to food and health?

According to Japan born author Moryama and her American husband, Doyle there most certainly is…
Obviously high Japanese life expectancy can in part be attributed to a top class health care system and regular comprehensive health checks but there are many habits that Japanese people simply take for granted that do have enormous benefits for lifelong health.

  • As in many oriental cultures, there is no ‘main meal’ as such and the variety of small communal dishes are placed in the centre of the table. This ensures there is no pressure to ‘clean the plate’ so children can have as much or as little as they feel like. Also it encourages children to sample and try different foods as there is a wider choice of dishes available. It is also a well known fact that smaller plates and dishes ‘trick’ the mind into thinking you are eating a larger portion than you actually are.
  • Meat and fish are cut into fine strips which reduces the amount of meat eaten as a whole. (and also cuts costs). Strips of meat are simply used to flavour the mostly vegetable-based dishes and meat is rarely the focus of the dish itself.
  • The Japanese also favour particularly water dense vegetables such as mung sprouts, water chestnuts, mangetouts, pak choi – all of which help you to feel full without piling on the calories. Vegetable soups (miso) are also popular which again help you fill up without gorging on calories.
  • Rice itself has fewer calories per gram than pasta and bread and the Japanese don’t eat a huge pile of rice but instead eat their rice, rhythmically in turn, with the other dishes of the meal such as veg and soup. In other words there is no blood sugar spike associated with a huge pile of pasta or bread, say. (Brown rice has fewer calories still).
  • It’s more common in Japan for children to be involved in the preparation of the family meal. Children are often keen to be useful and this reviewer has often noticed children inadvertently trying new things while peeling and cutting that they may never have touched if they’d been plonked down in front of them.

Finally, Japanese children are more likely to walk to school. This ensures they receive their recommended weekly exercise as a matter of course. Traffic, pollution and work issues may make this impossible for your family so in that case, why not schedule a regular family walk every weekend? Our family is always surprised that our youngest, who always whinges about walking, doesn’t seem to notice how far she can walk as long as all her family are together. It’s not a race and well timed snack breaks can make all the difference. By age 6, they’ll already be hearing from school that driving kills polar bears so make sure you seize that opportunity when you get it!

This all may seem like a lot of change but implementing just one of these tips regularly in to your family life will make a difference to all your family’s health.

Secrets of the World’s Healthiest Children by Naomi Moryama and William Doyle is published by Piatkus priced £13.99 and can be purchased here.