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A Tokyo school swaps fresh fruit for jelly as food prices soar

TOKYO, July 6 (Reuters) – Kazumi Sato, a middle school nutritionist in eastern Tokyo, has received notices about increases in ingredient prices for months.

Given the financial hardships faced by many students’ families, local authorities are loathe to shift the burden of expensive school meals onto them. For Sato, that means constantly adjusting meal recipes so that Senju Aoba Junior High School’s kitchen stays on budget.

“I try to add seasonal fruits once or twice a month, but it’s hard to do that often,” he told Reuters at the school.

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Sato says she replaces fresh fruit, which is expensive in Japan, with jelly or handmade cake. She’s taken to using bean sprouts as a cheaper alternative wherever possible, but worries she’ll run out of ideas if prices keep rising.

“I don’t want to disappoint the kids by making them think it’s a sad meal,” she said.

Inflation is becoming an increasingly political issue in Japan, a country unaccustomed to steep price rises and many households feeling the squeeze. Read more

For schools, rising food prices affect an important source of livelihood for low-income Japanese families.

These days, Sato says, an 18-liter (4.8-gallon) can of cooking oil costs 1,750 yen ($12.85) more than it did a year ago, while the price of onions has doubled. The government imposes strict nutrition requirements on public schools, so nutritionists can only do so before schools force families to raise prices.

Officials want to avoid that, knowing that poor families eat less nutritious meals at home. Educators and public officials say it’s visibly skinnier as some kids return to school from summer break.

In Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, lunch costs 334 yen in public middle schools, of which 303 yen is covered by families.

As part of the relief measures, the national government said in April it would give schools money to help absorb some of the rising cost of meals. Adachi plans to use that and its own surplus budget to avoid passing the burden on to ward families.

But Sato worries about the prospect of further energy and food price hikes, especially when earmarked funds begin to run out toward the end of the school year.

“The rainy season has ended earlier this year, so the vegetables may be affected more,” he said. “I’m worried about what prices will be like in the fall and beyond.”

($1 = 136.1500 yen)

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Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, writing by Chang-Ron Kim; Edited by Sam Holmes

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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