What's for lunch? In Japanese schools it's always healthy

In Japan schools put an extra emphasis on having a healthy lunch.

(CBS News) In the long-running battle over school lunches, the United States is losing. American kids often reject healthy alternatives in favor of pizza and junk food, but it's different in other countries.

In Japan, healthful lunches aren't just a goal for Japanese kids. In fact, they're required.

Child obesity is almost unheard of in Japan, and part of that can be attributed to healthier school lunches. It's not just a meal or a break, but the educators treat it as a lesson in nutrition, and schools take it very seriously.

At Tokyo's Higashi-Kanamachi Elementary School, everything in the cafeteria is made from scratch and locally sourced. They even make homemade seaweed jello, and the kids are put to work acting as the chefs.

In their classrooms, the teacher and students eat the same foods at the same time in order to give the message that they are all in this together.

"We Japanese call it, 'eating from the same bowl,'" said Higashi-Kanamachi principal Kimiko Koyasu. "No matter how old you are, you never forget what you ate back in school."

The meals are not even that expensive. For about $2.50, the kids get a veggie-stuffed feast that is low on salt, sugar and fat and balanced, down to the last calorie.

Minnesota native Karl Hoeschen came to Higashi-Chichibu Junior High School outside Tokyo to teach English, and what he got was an education on staying fit.

"Since coming to Japan, two and a half years ago, I've lost about 10 kilograms, or 22 pounds, and I've become much more conscious about my portion sizes and just what exactly I'm eating," he said.

Even picky eaters can clean their plates as the schools use clever recipes to help them eat their vegetables.

"They're told from a very early age that they need to eat what's good for them and that what's good for them can be good tasting too," Hoeschen said.

Hitting the right notes at lunchtime doesn't guarantee good grades, but to the Japanese it's one way to keep young minds up to speed.

For Lucy Craft's full report, watch the video in the player above.