French fries. Cross. Chicken nuggets. Cross. Aerated drink. Cross.
Upma. Tick. Chicken sandwich. Tick. Fresh fruit juice. Tick.
Eager to inculcate healthy food habits in students, several schools are urging parents to keep junk food out of their child’s lunch box.
Calcutta International School (CIS) and Delhi Public School organise Healthy Food Week and Junk the Junk Food Week to make students and their parents aware about the need for a nutritious diet. The teachers prepare food charts to help parents plan a lunch menu.
But healthy is by no means boring. CIS, for instance, dedicates each day of the Healthy Food Week to a particular food group — on Carbohydrates Day, children can take sandwiches, pasta or muffins, and on Vitamin Day, fresh fruits.
Delhi Public School, Ruby Park, sends regular feedback to parents of students on what to give the kids for tiffin. “We provide the parents, especially of pre-primary kids, with a tiffin chart. They can choose from two or three balanced, healthy and non-fried food items,” said Anusree Ghose, the principal.
Instead of a lunch break, the school has a tiffin period, where students are taught table manners and use of cutlery while they eat. “During the tiffin class, teachers also check what food the kids have brought and if it is not suitable, a letter is sent to the parent,” Ghose said. “The break is meant for physical activities and for playing.”
Nutritionist and t2 columnist Hena Nafis thinks it is essential for schools to adopt the eat-healthy-live-healthy slogan. “Dependence on junk food is affecting children’s health. It leads to weight gain, which in turn puts kids at risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, hypertension and pre-diabetic condition,” she said.
While it may be easy for parents to stuff their kids’ lunch boxes with readymade food, they admit the initiative to encourage healthy eating has benefited the students. “My child’s school has asked us not to give spicy and junk food for lunch. I make sandwiches with vegetable stuffing or noodles in less oil with a lot of vegetable,” said Sudeshna Mukherjee, mother of Sattwik Mukherjee, a Class II student at Indus Valley World School.
Along with parents, students are also taught the benefits of healthy food habits. “We have several activities based on food and health in school. We have themes every month to make children aware about healthy food items,” said Ambica Mehra, the headmistress of the junior section of DPS Newtown.
“Students are taught about food groups and the importance of a balanced diet,” said Neelam Chaudhary, the head of the junior section at CIS. “In most families, both parents are working and it is easy for them to pack a burger or a packet of chips for their child. But if a child brings fried food to school, we ask him or her to keep it away and share lunch with the other kids. We also give the child biscuits and juice.”
The mother of a four-year-old said her son has become “health conscious”, thanks to the school directive on no wafers or instant noodles. “The teachers recommend home-cooked items such as poha, idli, noodles with vegetables as well as fruits,” said the mommy who now gives her son bread and boiled egg, corn chaat and boiled veggies instead of chicken nuggets or cake. “Initially, I was wary that my son wouldn’t eat homemade food, but now he insists that I don’t give him junk food or fried items. He has become a healthy eater,” she smiled.
School canteens too make sure they keep the menu healthy. “No chips or aerated drinks rule are allowed. We don’t serve wafers and aerated drinks in our canteen. It is not allowed in class parties and birthday parties either,” said Chaudhary.
At The Heritage School, which offers day boarding, students are served meals packed with just the right amount of nutrients. “We serve the students breakfast, lunch and snacks. We have appointed a dietician to make sure kids get the necessary nutrients such as vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates. Wafers and aerated drinks are a strict no-no,” said Seema Sapru, the principal.
The school ensures variety on the menu, which is changed every week and includes everything from porridge, cornflakes and sandwiches to vegetable parathas, upma, idli, dosa and pav bhaji. “Once a month, the canteen serves chaat, noodles or pasta,” Sapru said.