Photo/IllutrationConvenience store chain FamilyMart Co. plans to start a low-priced meal program in March. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

FamilyMart Co. will start providing discount meals in March, so that families living nearby can eat in spaces installed in about 2,000 of the chain's convenience stores in Japan.

Children and their parents who live near an outlet participating in the “Famima Kodomo Shokudo” (FamilyMart children’s restaurant) project can get boxed meals, desserts and beverages at prices of 100 yen (90 cents) for elementary school pupils, and 400 yen for junior high school students or older each time they attend one of the program's sessions at a store.

About 10 people can participate in the usual one-hour session, which consists of an orientation, meals, and activities that include letting children operate the cash register, according to a news release by the firm.

Children who are in elementary school or older can join a session without being accompanied by their parents if they have their prior permission.

A pilot program at five FamilyMart outlets in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures earlier this fiscal year received glowing reviews from participants, who said they enjoyed the sessions as it gave them a chance to have a pleasant chat with their friends.

Based on the positive response from the communities, FamilyMart decided to expand the project nationwide.

Kodomo shokudo facilities have been operated in Japan since several years ago by nonprofit organizations, voluntary groups or individuals and provide children and their parents who are having financially difficulties with meals free of charge or a cost of several hundred yen.

A member of the kodomo shokudo network civil group lauded FamilyMart for its move to assist low-income families.

“It is probably the first time that a company that has outlets nationwide has taken this kind of action at its own initiative,” the official said.

FamilyMart said it also hopes to reinvigorate local communities by turning its store outlets into communication hubs.