Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor
School nutrition should promote healthy eating among children in order to develop nutritious patterns. This also aids in intellectual development while preventing immediate health problems such as anaemia and obesity. Good school nutrition will also prevent long-term lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancers, diabetes and stroke.
School administrators have the challenge of raising the standard of the meals served to encourage lifelong healthy eating habits and to empower communities to play a part in assisting with a school nutrition programme.
Community-based school nutrition
The concern for Jamaica's children and their poor eating habits is to find new approaches for meals and nutrition education. It calls for the replication of a strategy that uses the community-empowerment approach in a model developed and implemented by Grace Kitchens since 1984. The programme made linkages between several stakeholders enlisting their support for the initiative and as part of the thrust to improve early-childhood education.
Participants also learned the value of nutritious meals on the educational process and the individual achievement of children. It is well established that school meals are important to the food-safety net of any country to end hunger and stunting in young children from conception throughout their school-age years, so that they can realise their full potential for a better life.
Eat what you grow
A significant portion of the programme emphasises the 'Eat what you grow, grow what you eat' message, as a means of stimulating the local economy through agriculture. As such, there is value in integrating local produce in healthy meal preparation for children, and understanding the added value of food in maximising nutrition at the community level.
It is in programmes like these that awareness is built to foster greater understanding of the value of food and nutrition in targeting hunger and contributing to national development. In the absence of a national nutrition policy, efforts have to be made to ensure their is a food-and-nutrition safety net to advance capacity development of children in the educational system.
We all admire the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, who is urging Congress to pass the Child Nutrition Bill for higher nutritional standards in meals served in schools. Like the United States, Jamaica is faced with increasing cases of obesity. Michelle Obama has been actively tackling the issue of childhood obesity by raising awareness of the problem and encouraging greater consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less fat, sugar and salt. This is another good time to emulate the US and raise the standard of our nutritional programmes for children through policy and practices.
New school year
Schools should start planning training for canteen staff to get a nutritious and interesting programme ready for September. Affordable, scalable and reliable programmes that have been designed to promote better school meals should be replicated in the coming school year. Apart from the nutritional value, the programme can inspire communities to draw on their skills and resources to transform the lives of children in schools, communities and country.
Communities in parts of central Clarendon, for example, have had success in preparing healthier school meals. The training programme has added new dimensions to the lives of the participants, teaching them 'to fish', finding entrepreneurial opportunities while improving the quality of meals for students. The children now enjoy mini pizzas, callaloo cups, sausage bean feasts, fish burgers, vienna curried rice, one pots and carrot egg-ernizer.
11/2 cups freshly squeezed carrot
1 egg, beaten
Sugar to taste
1/4 cup cows or soy milk
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Combine carrot juice, egg, sugar, milk-nutmeg and bitters. Mix well in a blender. Serve over cracked ice.
Recipe courtesy of Jamaica Egg Farmers Association.