The idea is to present this before the Cabinet ahead of the Budget session, so that it can be implemented from this academic session. This comes at a time when the National Family Health survey has reported an alarming drop in the nutritional level of children over the past five years—2015 to 2019.
As many as 18 states have reported an increase in the number of children who are underweight, stunted or wasted in the under-five age-group.
Various studies show that disadvantaged children often come to school on an empty stomach and ended up with chronic malnutrition. In such a scenario, a single hot cooked meal in the afternoon would not be enough to meet the required nutrition levels.
The breakfast at school proposal also has the strong backing of the National Policy on Education 2020, which noted that children are unable to learn optimally when they are undernourished or unwell. It was advised that a breakfast menu would ensure that “the nutrition and health (including mental health) of children will be addressed, through healthy meals and the introduction of well-trained social workers, counsellors, and community involvement into the schooling system”.
The policy also cites research which shows that “the morning hours after a nutritious breakfast can be particularly productive for the study of cognitively more demanding subjects and hence these hours may be leveraged by providing a simple but energising breakfast in addition to mid-day meals”. At locations where it may be difficult to provide a hot cooked meal, a simple, nutritious meal comprising ground nuts/chana mixed with jaggery and/or local fruits may be provided.
While the ministry is yet to finalise the breakfast menu, it is learnt that various options will be on the table.
“We largely leave it to the state governments to decide what to offer in the school meals keeping in mind the local palate and diet. However, the Centre will specify the nutritional requirements and a general diet recommendation based on the inputs from the National Institute of Nutrition,” an official in the know told ET.
To ensure the quality of food served and its nutritional content, the ministry has proposed that the expenditure on meals will be linked to food costs and inflation.
The Department of School Education had, last year, sought special funding from the 15th Finance Commission –– Rs 11,5392 crore towards the mid-day meal scheme for “including pre-primary children and energising breakfast for children” for five years. It is expected that the 15th Finance Commission will be favourable to this proposal.