Healthy food

Healthy food

A Parliamentary panel has suggested packaged food for children as part of the midday meal scheme. This came in response to complaints in several states that children are being provided poor quality food.

 Indeed, there have been reports of children being given rotten vegetables, rice laced with lizards and cockroaches. There have been innumerable instances of children falling ill due to food poisoning, contracting diarrhoea on account of contaminated water used for cooking.
Not surprisingly, worried parents are reluctant to allow their children to eat food provided under the scheme. School authorities have lodged complaints as well. They claim that the entire process of collecting food, distributing it and washing utensils, among other things, takes several hours cutting into teaching time. It is in the context of these complaints that the parliamentary panel suggested packaged food. However, the solution is to take steps to improve food quality. Such steps involve robust monitoring of food being provided to ensure that children is hygienic. Contracts of suppliers who provide food that does not meet quality standards should be cancelled. And school authorities should hire separate staff to implement the programme rather than compel their teachers and students to wash vessels. Having food cooked in centralised kitchens rather than in the school itself could help overcome several problems associated with the scheme.

By recommending packaged food, the parliamentary panel has opted for an approach that involves throwing the baby out with the bath-water. Providing packaged food will pave the way for contractors to supply biscuits and snacks. These may be tasty but not healthy. The midday meal scheme aims not only at drawing children to school but also at improving child nutrition. Packaged food is not the best way to tackle malnutrition. Children need balanced meals. Even dry food mixture is not a good option.

 Karnataka is among the states that can take pride in its excellent execution of the midday meal scheme. The parliamentary panel should draw inspiration and ideas from organisations like the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which have partnered with the government to provide children with hot food that is nutritious, tasty and of good quality. If Karnataka can, there is no reason why other states in India cannot feed children cooked meals.

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