More than a third of American kids are considered overweight or obese, which can seem odd considering how many of these kids turn rejecting their parents’ dinner decisions into a sport. Meanwhile, in Japan, kids eat whatever their parents put in front of them and have the lowest childhood obesity rates of the developed world.
There are a few cultural explanations for this. Kids in Japan are encouraged to refrain from snacking, and expected to deal with the occasional growling stomach. When they arrive at the table for family meals, they have the hunger of a deep-sea Kaiju facing down a megalopolis made entirely of fish.
But what they are offered matters just as much as their relative hunger. Most Japanese kids will eat with the entire family at a shared meal that features a variety of offerings including fish, rice, and smaller vegetable-based side dishes. They eat what everyone else eats. Whining for a preservative-free corn dog or some gluten-free chicken nuggets is a non-starter — the poor things probably aren’t even aware that their American counterparts have successfully wielded this tactic against their own parents for generations.
Because of this, Japanese kids eat one of the healthiest diets in the world, and not very much of it. Their eating traditions suggest that you should only ever walk away from the table feeling, at most, 80-percent full. And the story doesn’t change at school. Japanese school lunches offer the same extraordinary level of caloric restraint and nutrition as home-style meals. Combine that with the fact that most of them walk to and from school, and you can begin to understand why the whole nation seems so damned fit all the time.
Can you make mealtimes more Japanese? Sure. You can stop making the kids their own mac-n-cheese and you can not carry a small grocery basket of snacks with you to dispense on command. But if your kid has already mastered the art of tactical whining, expect the withdrawl period to be a little intense.