Wednesday, December 31, 2014

School meals more nutritious than mom's own food? May be!

There was a time when mom's food was considered the ultimate in taste and flavor though grandma recipes still rule the roost, often recalled with nostalgia! Why is that mom's food is often ranked high in the pecking order of foods ranked in terms of acceptance? Is it sheer habit of people cultivated over long time of association with mother or some other factors are contributing to this perception? Sociologists and psychologists some how feel that mom's food served by mom herself offers some thing else besides taste and flavor and that is "love" which has no measuring scale to gauge. It is another matter that in many house holds to day cooks employed by the families do the routine of making and serving foods to the members as every one in a family is busy with their own daily chores. A recent observation by a social auditing group in to day's America reports that school lunches turned out to be more nutritious than home cooked foods brought by those children not eating the school prepared lunches. How significant is this cannot be gauged because lunch is only a part of the daily diet and what these children eat for breakfast and dinner is any body's guess. Here is a take on this interesting survey which may make little sense in countries like India.

"The study found that lunches packed in home paled in comparison to school meals. According to the study, the home-packed lunches were offering lower nutritional quality during the study. Home-packed lunches often include fat and more calories than school lunches. Adding to that, parents make meals unhealthy by packing sugary drinks and desserts. In the study, home-packed lunches were also found higher in iron and vitamin C, but it was lacking in vitamin A, fiber, protein and calcium. Public elementary and secondary schools in the US have more than 50 million children. About 60% of the children rely on school lunches while the rest of the children bring their food from home. According to the study, school lunches had about 512 calories while on the other side, home-packed lunches had approximately 608 calories. When it comes about protein, school lunches had 26 grams and home-packed lunches offered just 18 grams. School lunches included vegetables, fruits, sugar-free juice and milk, homemade food had more snacks. Home-packed food had about 880 mg of sodium while schools lunches offered 1,000 mg of sodium to the children. Connie Diekman, University nutrition director at St. Louis' Washington University, said she is not surprised with the study's result. "This study provides outcomes that are similar to other studies that show the positive benefits of school lunch", said Diekman."

School lunch becomes acceptable only when there is a variety in the offerings and nutrition is secondary to the recipients as most of them, with tradition bound eating habits, are looking for foods which meet with their sensory perception like taste, texture and flavor. Indian school lunch programs invariably are based on the ready receptivity of children to hot foods served fresh though there is no evidence to support such a theory. Such "on the site" cooking practices have inherent dangers as brought out by several food poisoning episodes reported during the last few years. One of the least appreciated facts in this confusing scenario is that one lunch in the school does not create much of an impact on the health of the child in a family if the same child goes hungry at home due to abject poverty. The consolation is that at least he gets one meal a day in which some nutrients like proteins, vitamins and minerals can be loaded. In a scenario where calorie intake itself is in jeopardy, talking about balanced nutrition may not have any bearing. With the food security act of government of India the situation may improve provided the logistics of distribution of food grains at heavily subsidized prices are worked out with least vulnerability to pilferage.  


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