Traditional Japanese Lunches at Aozora Preschool
One of the most wonderful parts of living in New York is that you can find a home for yourself, no matter what culture you’re from. For Japanese families with toddlers, Aozora Preschool is the perfect place to build your child’s English skills while keeping them connected to their Japanese culture—especially through food!
Based in Brooklyn, New York, Aozora Preschool is the borough’s only Japanese/English bilingual school. Aside from language skills, they are also committed to providing traditional Japanese meals for all their little ones. While they celebrate diversity and embrace a broad world perspective, their focus is on the celebration of Japanese culture and community. This can be seen in their dedication to Japanese cuisine in its many forms.
We spoke with Natsuko Yamawaki of Aozora to get a better idea of their meal program and their relationship to the rice factory NEW YORK’s Japanese rice.
What is the concept of the school lunch at Aozora?
Our idea is to provide meals that reflect traditional school lunches in Japan. We are committed to providing a menu that is full of healthy ingredients and whole foods because we believe that young children need high-quality foods in order to properly develop and grow. We offer a wide range of traditional Japanese dishes, such as fermented foods, seasonal vegetable dishes, freshly cooked Japanese rice, soups, and healthy snacks.
The idea is to get children excited and inspired by healthy food from a young age. If we can get children to build their palettes around these nutritious and wholesome foods, they will be less drawn to processed foods with additives.
Which dishes are the most popular among the children?
The kids really enjoy the Mapo Tofu, which is tofu braised in a flavorful red sauce. They also love mixed rice with salmon flakes and simmered tofu with egg. Another popular option is grilled salmon with vegetables, miso soup, and Natto fritters. Natto is a fermented soybean product that can be turned into delicious fritters that the kids absolutely love!
What made you start using rice from the rice factory NEW YORK?
We initially wanted to serve brown rice, since it was a more nutritious option for our growing preschoolers. However, we quickly found out that brown rice was a bit too difficult for their developing digestive systems, which gave us no other option but to serve them white rice.
Then, we found out that the rice factory NEW YORK offers the option of choosing the degree of milling for our rice. Right away, we tried the 70% milled rice, which is almost as easy to cook and digest as white rice. It results in the same soft and tender texture, while also providing 30% more nutritional benefits than white rice. We decided that it would be the perfect choice for our center.
Even though it is Japonica rice, the white rice we buy in the U.S is too dry and needs to be mixed with glutinous (sushi) rice to make it taste and feel like real Japanese rice. The rice factory NEW YORK’s rice is fresh and tastes great without needing any blending, most likely because they freshly mill it for every order. We have continued to buy the 70% milled rice because it is healthier and tastier for our preschoolers!
How are the preschoolers responding to the rice from the rice factory NEW YORK?
Even children who are picky eaters and don’t eat their school lunch always eat the rice factory NEW YORK’s rice with gusto. Ever since we switched to freshly milled rice, they have been eating so much more rice with their meals—like little monsters!
Are there upcoming events or exciting new to announce for Aozora?
Very soon, we will begin offering Aozora Academy, which is a specialized Japanese language program for children of elementary school age and above.
Contact us to learn more!
Do you have a message for our readers and the community?
All of our preschoolers love the school lunches so much that they look forward to them every day. We are so grateful to the rice factory NEW YORK for providing us with delicious rice that our little ones get excited about. On days when we have pasta instead of rice, some of the kids are visibly disappointed because they love the rice so much!
The rice factory NEW YORK’s rice is the unsung hero for Aozora Gakuen’s school lunches. Thank you so much for all your support!