What Do Japanese Kindergarteners Think of Lattes and Donuts for Breakfast?
There is an American video creator I follow, who is also an English teacher in Japan. I love his content for his foreigner-living-in-Japan stories, as I find his humor and insights relatable.
If you surf through his posts on Instagram, you will quickly find that there is an ongoing joke within his classroom, which he refers to as “caramel latte”. The children go absolutely bonkers when it comes up, and apparently it has been a source of chaos in the morning multiple times.
According to his video, “caramel latte” started on one of his first days teaching, when he walked into the classroom with a sweet caramel latte drink and donut for breakfast. Bought on his way to school, it was something he was used to eating back in the United States for breakfast, and a tradition he brought to Japan with him.
Well, the children went absolutely bonkers at this revelation.
“Too much sweets!”
“Mr. Patrick again???”
“So bad, so much sweets.”
The creator equated their reaction to finding out as if he had committed a crime, with the children showing disbelief and disappointment at his breakfast choices.
It’s quite a hilarious sight, but one that I think would be common in a lot of Japanese classrooms — if a kindergartener saw an adult eating donuts for breakfast, they might be quick to chastise them for choosing something so sugary first thing in the morning.
Are Japanese children just more disciplined?
It’s funny, because children are often seen as beings that will eat sweets without restraint, but here is this instance where they already have a strong opinion against too much sugar for breakfast. The most curious thing is that these children are not more disciplined or controlled than those in other cultures— it is just what they see as a normal.
Notice that these children do not think that their teacher is lucky because he gets to have donuts and lattes for breakfast, but instead actively think something is off about his choices. There is little exercising of self control against sugar and sweets, but it’s rather a belief on what breakfast should look like.
I spent my childhood in the United States and have many strong memories of eating donuts for breakfast, and would not have reacted like the Japanese kindergarteners in the video. I had also grown up overweight, and with a very skewed idea of what lifestyle eating should look and feel like, that the problem with my health was with my own self control rather than my environment.
But if I had never been exposed to the idea of donuts as breakfast food? Maybe I wouldn’t have equated healthy, vegetable-rich breakfasts as punishment, or struggled with my weight in quite the same way. Maybe I would’ve seen donuts for breakfast as just… a little bit off.
How does obesity in Japan compare to the rest of the world?
Japan enjoys one of the lowest rates of childhood obesity among high-income developed nations. Only about 5% of Japanese children ages 5 to 9 are obese, and this number drops to 2.5% for children between 10 to 19 years old.
Even as adults these numbers remain relatively the same, where adult obesity measured as 4.3% in 2016.
That’s not just saved medical bills, but an improved quality of life and wellbeing for millions of Japanese people, who won’t have to struggle with their weight, health, or the way they eat.
What everyone should know about healthy eating
If children can feel this way about healthy eating choices, then it just shows that healthy eating is not about willpower or controlling our impulses, but about shifting our norms about what is appropriate for our bodies. We already know that to be healthy, we need to eat vegetables and nutrient-rich whole foods, get regular exercise, and enjoy sweets and fried foods in moderation. So instead of more health hacks or dieting information, what we really need is to make healthy choices not about deprivation, but to recalibrate it as the obvious way to take care of ourselves.
So before embarking on a new healthy diet plan, consider first: what are my eating norms? Question them, dismiss the ones that hold you back, and embrace the ones which can make your life more whole — seemingly small details, but when things like donuts for breakfast become the crazy exception, you’ll never look back.