Man is like a child in the cradle of this earth and nature is its mother. It is the beauty of Mother Nature that it nourishes every living being with utmost care. It is this love and care that has supplemented in the evolution of humans and has brought us to the current level of intellectual refinement. Though nature doesn’t seem to be that organized like its children in the civilized world, we do recognize its silent rules. One amongst the many is the way we eat, what we eat and when we eat. Naturopathy and Ayurveda, which are age-old sciences of treating ailments, have these answers.
According to Naturopathy, one must consume meals as the movement of the Sun. As the Sun rises, so should one consume meals. Thus, the mid-day meal is considered the most important meal, particularly for the younger generation who are in their growing age. It not only helps them to be physically strong but also keeps their mind healthy and in an active state to learn. Keeping this in mind, a number of schemes and policies like Michele Obama’s ‘Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act’, ‘School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme’ in Europe, etc. have been designed across the world with the foundation aim of the healthy and fit young generation.
Countries like Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and India provide free school meals to pupils in compulsory education regardless of their ability to pay. Many countries like France, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States provide meals to the students at a nominal or reduced cost. While in developed countries the school meal is a source of a nutritious meal, in developing countries it is an incentive to send children to school and continue their education. It also provides food security in times of crisis.
The pattern of providing meals to the students differs from nation to nation. In Estonia, free school dinners are served. It is based on the Estonian food chain in which the pyramid’s base is water and exercise. Finland provides free, catered hot meals to students in school, as guaranteed by the 1948 Basic Education Act. It consists of typically Finnish foods, which consists of a warm main course, vegetables, bread, a table spread and a drink. France considers lunch as the most important meal of the day, so the students are given ample time to go home and take lunch or take lunch at school at a nominal charge. Similarly, India has Mid-Day Meal Scheme in practice since 1925.
Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS), is a Centrally-Sponsored Scheme, formally came into practice from 15 August 1995. It is to guarantee Article 24 of the Indian constitution. The scheme is covered by the National Food Security Act, 2013. The legal backing to the Indian school meal program is akin to the legal backing provided in the US through the National School Lunch Act. It covers all school children studying in Classes I-VIII of Government or Government-Aided Schools. The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NPNSPE), popularly known as the Mid Day Meal (MDM) program exists in India for the last 18 years. The scheme was launched to provide Mid Day Meal to each and every child aged between 6-14 years of eligible schools to achieve the goal of universalization of Elementary Education. The scheme covers more than 12 Crore children studying in 11.4 Lakh schools across the country. As per the PIB report of February 2019, the Government of India incurs more than Rs 17,600 Crore in the scheme including the subsidy of about Rs.7,600 Crore on food grains.
The mid-day meal is a well-intentioned scheme and has to be implemented effectively.
The most important objectives of the program –
- To attract children from disadvantaged sections to school, thereby increasing attendance, reducing dropout rates & promoting women empowerment through literacy.
- To improve the effectiveness of primary education by improving the nutritional status of children thereby reducing malnutrition.
- To attract children from disadvantaged sections, especially girls from Dalits and Adivasi tribes to school, thereby increasing attendance, reducing dropout rates & promoting women empowerment through literacy.
- To promote a feeling of oneness and secularism amongst various different religions and cultures.
- To liberate the underprivileged children from the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy by serving them sanctified and nutritious meals.
A number of elaborate objectives have been mentioned in the documents of the program. As it started getting implemented, a number of diverse points were brought to the notice. The loopholes in the system are highlighted in almost every report. Let us here add a pinch of the spice of positivity in the Mid-Day Meal. By the grace of God, it will be healthier to digest.
Mid-Day Meal [MDM] is so significant that it has the potential of the teaching-learning process and in sensitivity-building. It creates an environment in which all children sit down to eat together. It is absolutely unique because it provides an opportunity to engage them with many issues. These issues could be related to resource conservation (nature of fuels, cooking practices), pollution (a type of chulha), socio-cultural exchanges (types of food, taste), health, cooking technologies, etc. This assists in taking up inter- a disciplinary approach that directly or indirectly includes a number of innovative teaching techniques without even one’s realization.
As per the government guidelines, MDM is to be cooked in the school premises in the area specially allotted for it. The infrastructure and the cooking fuel for MDM can be a part of the lesson at school. It can serve as a mini-lab for the students and real-life live examples can be used for effective teaching. The students can be asked to draw the layout of the school premises with accurate measurements and highlight the position of the kitchen-cum-store of their school in that. This covers a part of measurements in Mathematics. It also covers labeling and mapping in Geography.
In smaller grades, the same MDM cooking area can be used to discuss shapes and sizes of the utensils used and also the capacity it can hold. Awareness related to ventilation, light, cleanliness, etc. can be created. Students and cooking staff are sensitized towards the safety aspects related to the preparation of meals. Absolute care is taken to ensure that kitchen-cum-stores should not have any thatched roofs or other inflammable, like straw, bamboo and synthetic material. Discussion of the material of the roof of the kitchen shed in the school and the types of inflammable substances can be brought to student’s notice by making safe arrangements.
Some activities like comparing the traditional chulha with the smokeless chulha can be included to help the students be aware of and compare different types of fuels used for cooking in order to sensitize others about the conservation of fuels and use of eco-friendly fuels for cooking. The concept of Solar cookers can be introduced, explaining how it is cost effective and a perfect substitute for fossil fuels (biomass, LPG, etc.). In a hot country like India, solar energy can be extensively used and solar cookers can provide a smoke-free solution. This again covers a portion of the Geography, Science, and lessons of Environmental studies in a more interesting manner.
Traditional Chulha Smokeless Chulha
Adequate nutrition and hygienic cooking and serving practices of the meal is another important aspect of MDM. This requires procurement of the ingredients of cooking that cater to the nutritional needs of students besides ensuring the orientation of the staff engaged with it to cook and serve in a hygienic manner. It is important for the students to understand the source of the ingredients for cooking and their safe storage. The use of pest control methods [placing neem leaves in the bulk stock of grains, etc.] can be taught here. Which dish is prepared with which ingredients, what is the source of getting it, in which seasons they can be made easily and economically available is also a major part of the curriculum of the of Economics and Science?
Students love to be on the ground, in the open area. This interest of theirs can again be constructively diverted towards learning. With the help of support of staff and students, a kitchen garden can be established where they can grow vegetables which they can use to prepare the school MDM. They would practically learn and see how different vegetables, fruits, and crops are sown and are available in different seasons. Thus, helping them differentiate between Rabi and Kharif crops, the sowing and cutting period. The yield can also be distributed to schools in the neighborhood, thus helping them to socialize and practice the value of sharing. This is one way of diverting students’ interest in agriculture. Many modern techniques of farming can be contrasted with the old farming techniques covering another important topic of Science and Geography.
The students can be asked to visit the kitchen and observe and identify various processes/methods like boiling, steaming frying, roasting, or baking is used for cooking on different days and identifies which meal has which kind of nutritional value and how it helps their body in being strong and healthy. There is n number of topics covered this way in just one set up in school, which is the Mid-Day Meal.
The fact that such a stimulating opportunity is uniformly available in such a large number of schools should encourage us to tap its academic potential and weave different conceptual understandings and sensitivities around it. Mid-day mealtime is right for teaching green behavior. It can help in achieving the objectives of Education for Sustained Development. It can be an effective tool to enrich learning in different curricular areas. It will help in developing insight for using it to promote children’s overall development as envisioned in the RTE Act. Thus, a small step of attracting the students to school can in-turn be used in touch a number of topics with a simple small setup and in the most interesting manner making the benefits many folds.