Wednesday, November 7, 2012


India is considered one of the front line countries in applied nutrition programs benefiting millions of kids and vulnerable women through its schools and Anganwadis, spread all over the country. While school feeding programs are intended mainly to attract kids from low income families as a part of universal literacy policy of the nation, Anganwadis and other special feeding centers serve to augment the nutritional level of daily diets which are considered not satisfactory as per the health norms set by experts. After experimenting with instant food products which do not need any further cooking in the school premises for a number of years, it was Tamil Nadu which started the "freshly cooked" meals program for providing hot foods using locally procured raw material. Several other states followed this example and the responsibility was shared by the government agencies and many women based voluntary organizations. The ISKON organization is reported to be the largest agency to day in India in terms of number of meals served through organized central kitchens and well managed distribution logistics. Recent announcement made in Chennai by the CM of TN provides interesting reading regarding the ambitious goals of the government in making the beneficiaries extremely happy by providing the much needed variety for serving such meals. Here is a take on this new development.

"Thirteen varieties of rice and four types of egg 'masala' will soon enrich the plates of students benefiting under the nutritious noon-meal scheme of the State government, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa told the Assembly on Friday. Making a suo motu statement, she said the purpose was to break the monotony in the menu under the scheme introduced by former Chief Minister M.G. Ramchandran 30 years ago and to make them palatable. The government consulted well-known chefs and nutrition experts on this issue and 'channa biriyanai' and pepper egg were served on an experimental basis in a school in Saidapet and the Andhanallur panchayat union school in Chief Minister's Srirangam constituency. The students liked it and the chefs demonstrated 13 varieties of rice and four types of egg 'masala.' The Chief Minister said the new scheme would be introduced in one taluk in every district and depending on the feedback, this would be extended to other areas gradually.
There would be one set of menu for the first and third weeks of a month and another set for the second and fourth week.
The students would be served vegetable 'biriyani' and pepper powder egg on first and third Mondays; 'channa-pulav' and tomato 'masala' on Tuesdays; tomato rice and pepper egg on Wednesdays; rice, sambar and boiled egg on Thursdays and curry leaf rice or green (keerai) rice, egg masala and roasted potato on Fridays. The menu of second and fourth Mondays would be 'sambar' rice, onion and tomato egg 'masala'; mealmaker and vegetable mixed rice and pepper egg on Tuesdays; tamarind rice and tomato egg 'masala' on Wednesdays; lemon rice, tomato egg 'masala' and 'sundal' on Thursdays and rice, sambar, boiled egg and roasted potato on Fridays. The Chief Minister said the government would also provide a variety of dishes to the children attached to 'anganwadis' in the State. Special attention would be made to the children, considering their requirements and digestive capacity. The children would get tomato rice and boiled egg on Mondays; mixed rice and 'sundal' on Tuesdays; vegetable 'pulav' and boiled egg on Wednesdays; lemon rice and boiled egg on Thursdays; 'dhal' rice and boiled potato on Fridays and mixed rice on Saturdays and Sundays.Ms. Jayalalithaa said the new menu would increase the number of students attending school and improve their nutritional requirement"

Processed foods versus freshly cooked foods debate seems to have finally ended with most states opting for the latter though this option is fraught with very high degree of risks. Limited resources available for providing the needs of the children further restricts any choice, leaving the government with very little elbow room in designing the meals. Besides the activities such as material procurement, storage, fuel for cooking, actual cooking, serving the meals, cleaning the utensils etc all become additional burden/responsibilities for the school staff and teaching efficiency can be adversely affected. The risks of food poisoning is also very high requiring ever vigilant overseeing of the operation. Also debatable is the assumption that all children will eat the food and possibility of wastage also is high. Inclusion of egg is another uncertain move which may have some unforeseen reaction from vegetarian population among the kids. Ideally it is preferable that ready to serve foods are used for such massive operations and here is where the ingenuity of food scientists becomes crucial. The fresh food option now being used in many states may not be the last word on the subject and one has to wait and see the experience arising out of the present decision.


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