While commending the State government's nutritious mid-day meal scheme for children, a team from the Union Human Resource Ministry, which reviewed the programme in Tamil Nadu recently, has suggested that the menu could be spruced up by adding grains such as millet and ragi. “It can be boring for children to have rice and sambar every day. So, we have suggested that more varieties such as millets be introduced, provided it is practical and suits the taste of children,” said Rita Chatterjee, Joint Secretary, MHRD, who headed the team.
The Central team, which is touring various States to review the system of fund flow, payment of cost of food grains and infrastructure at noon meal centres, among others, visited three districts – Namakkal, Krishnagiri and Vellore. The team had several meetings in Chennai. Lauding the scheme, Ms. Chatterjee said there are many lessons that other States could learn from Tamil Nadu. The quality of rice, meticulous maintenance of record books and state of kitchens received special mention. Other suggestions offered to the Department of Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme include improving community participation and packaging of food grains. “We noticed that when sacks of food grains reach school much is lost, FCI should take up packaging to ensure there is minimal loss in the process,” Ms. Chatterjee added.
Senior officials of said the suggestions are welcome and the modalities on bringing in more variety in the menu can be worked out.
The current menu includes white rice, vegetable sambar, and boiled egg served all five working days of the week. On Friday potatoes are also included in the menu.
Chef Damu, who was previously approached by the Department to spice up the mid-day menu, feels while millets are more nutritious than rice the challenge is in introducing these fibre foods in a State where a majority are rice eaters.
“It is important to break the monotony in the menu to make food more appealing and also to prevent wastage,” said Mr. Damu. Many varieties can be served even with ragi and millets by using the same ingredients in the menu.
According to K. Shanmugavelayutham, convener of voluntary organisation TN-Forces and who accompanied the Central team, the local bodies and school management committee should take part in supervision of mid-day meal scheme and also in suggesting the menu. “Nutrition and hygiene level should be improved further'', he added.