| by Victor Cherubim
( July 27, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Whilst so much attention is being paid to the business of politics recently, particularly the Provincial Council elections or whether the 13th Amendment is fit for purpose, with schools re-opening, the all too important diet of school children, in urban and essentially in rural schools, has been left willy-nilly to the whims and fancies of the children themselves.
School children used to carry packed lunches with them to school, or be delivered lunch packets by lunch boys. Today more than ever, they have to settle for fast food at convenience food shops, or snacks, which is fine by children, but unnoticed by parents or the school they attend, which also has a responsibility for their welfare. Most of all, an unhealthy, unbalanced diet, is a recipe for obesity and malnutrition.
It is time all primary school children, in schools up and down the country, are “introduced” to free lunch at the school. School lunch will no doubt improve children’s health. It does make a world of difference both to parents and to the children, if lunch is provided at school. Many schools open and close early. Children have to get home by school coaches tired after a day at school, or jam packed in crowded school buses or trains, or if affluent or lucky to be chauffer driven to their homes, advance of parents return from work. There is thus a compulsion, for an irregular diet.
As well as improving children’s health, the provision of a school meal at lunchtime, would
be an investment in the fitness of our children and at the same time would create jobs for
School canteen staff and the cultivation of school gardens. If they have a filling meal at lunch at school, they need not supplement it with snacks and “fizzies” on their way home. It is a double whammy for both the school and for the parents to know that while they are at school, they also have a healthy diet.
The question of bringing food from home to school has been looked into. As it happens,
Finland has introduced free school lunch for children. We need not have to follow this system because it is thriving, in Finland, but we need to do something soon if only to get our growing children, to be classed fit and healthy.
The up and down side
How often do we hear reports from the World Health Organisation of child obesity? How often do we find our children under nourished? How often do we hear of toxic levels of agricultural pesticide, as very recently in India’s Bihar state where school meals introduced to combat hunger and boost school attendance, have been boycotted, due to the contaminated vegetable oil used in meal preparation.
On the reverse, the introduction of free school meals offers a selection of freshly cooked main meal. This has been shown to improve health and tackle heath inequalities of school children. Any who take advantage of school meals are now guaranteed at least two of their five daily portions of fruit and vegetables, along with other essential vitamins and minerals.
Research has also shown that consumption of junk food is linked to poor behaviour which can negatively affect children’s learning and academic performance.
Child poverty is another pressing issue and besides help to low income families, especially with the rise in the cost of living, the provision of free school meals to all primary school children, has wide ranging benefits.
Before the Government considers a universal entitlement to free meals for primary school children, a cost benefit analysis study can show, if it beneficial. “Given the severity of the children’s diet, the obesity crisis, the increased pressure on low income family budgets in the
current economic climate,” a pilot project can and should be instigated in rural schools where, the dynamics of poverty is acute. Its findings may raise important policy decisions.
“Can a child have a square meal in a round plastic container?”