Packed food push for kids

Minister Maneka Gandhi wants to replace freshly cooked meals with packaged food at anganwadi childcare centres, seven years after one of her predecessors, the Congress's Renuka Chowdhury, made such a proposal but saw it stalled.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 11.12.15
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New Delhi, Dec. 10: Minister Maneka Gandhi wants to replace freshly cooked meals with packaged food at anganwadi childcare centres, seven years after one of her predecessors, the Congress's Renuka Chowdhury, made such a proposal but saw it stalled.

"Instead of cooking meals at the centres or by self-help groups, there should be a central place where food is cooked and packed under sanitary conditions," the women and child development minister said today at the launch of a report on nutrition.

Maneka said the packed meals - to be provided to kids in the 3-6 age group under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) - would be free of contamination and would help maintain nutritional standards.

Renuka had in 2008 said her aim was to give children ready-to-eat meals "untouched by human hands". But her proposal was rejected by the PMO, the Planning Commission and a ministerial panel.

Maneka's ministry has started consultations with states on the possibility of centralised kitchens where such meals can be machine-made, packed and delivered to the childcare centres.

"We are talking to the states...the meals can be cooked in one central kitchen, or even two, in a state. Different companies can be given the responsibility to prepare these meals," Maneka said, adding such meals could even be warmed by putting them in hot water.

Right to food campaigners have, however, found the plan unpalatable. They argue that the move is not just a contravention of guidelines set by the Supreme Court in 2004 but also beats the logic of the ICDS, which seeks to promote not just supplementary nutrition but also good food habits and local culture.

"Does she think children should eat packaged food everyday? The idea of the ICDS is to promote home cooked meals made local products and (through) community-owned processes. People should have a say in what their children eat," said activist Vandana Prasad.