Most of us have come across a saying “a mother can tailor the best food basket for her kids” but it seems to hold less or no importance to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) as in its repeated policy advisory, the board has stressed on the need to police the lunch boxes of kids to keep a check on the food consumed by kids and to ensure that they are getting a nutritious diet.
Since its inception policing has been an integral part of the state, but monitoring food is a modern phenomenon. Parents, who abide by the saying mentioned above, may call the lunch box policing an advent of a “nanny state”.
In order to avoid the consumption of food deemed as unhealthy by the board, principals of CBSE affiliated schools have been instructed to monitor students’ lunch boxes. In a latest circular, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has asked all the schools affiliated to it to ensure that food items like chips, ready-to-eat noodles etc., are not there in the lunch box sent from home or available at the school canteens.
Many schools, teachers, and parents have backed the move, but then there are those who think that the food inspection move by the CBSE is afoot to take away parents rights to feed their children. The whole narrative is a little complex and needs to be carefully examined by taking the views of both sides, into consideration.
Sudha Acharya, Principal of ITL Public School Dwarka, said, “Teachers need the authority to enforce ‘healthy eating’ habits. But there are parents who believe that they can decide better what their children should carry in their lunch boxes and several times many parents have protested the idea of lunch box policing.”
While speaking to Millennium Post, mothers, waiting outside ITL Public school to receive their children, expressed their anger over being “named and shamed” for what they packed in their child’s lunch box. A few of them have even went on to complain the school to stay away from their kids’ lunch box and let them enjoy the treat be it chips or chocolates.
Shama, a 40-year-old mother said, “I had received a letter from the teacher as I had packed noodles in my son’s lunch box. The letter said: “It is our school’s policy to encourage healthy eating. We would appreciate if your son brings a nutritious, healthy sandwich for his lunch.” Shama’s two kids study in Queen’s Land International School, (QLIS) in Dwarka.
“Last month it was my son’s birthday and the chocolate spread in the sandwich was a special treat which I had packed in his lunch but the school administration did not allow him to have it and confiscated his lunch box. It was disheartening when my son returned home crying over the event.” said Roshni Gupata, whose son studies in the Maxfort School Dwarka.
Namita, a working, single parent questioned,“Should treats be banned, and should teachers be getting involved with what a parent packs in her child’s lunch every-day? Not every child has weight issues and I think it is a very cookie-cutter approach to ensure that every child eats the same food.”
“Sometimes I don’t like when teachers take out my favourite almond chocolate from the lunch box. I cry but they (teachers) refuse to return. Mama says that she would complain to police but she doesn’t,” Namita’s eight year old son Abhishek conveyed his anger over lunch box policing.The teachers and parents those who backed the CBSE circulation said, “The initiative taken by the board is good, and teachers in schools should have the power to monitor students’ lunch boxes so they can confiscate fast food or other unhealthy eatables, to ensure children are healthy. They’ve found themselves pitted against parents who are reported to be against schools becoming a “nanny state” and that they will continue to put treats in their child’s lunch.” The board’s decision has come after a well designed deliberation with all the parties involved including dietitians, parents and teachers. Rama Sharma, official spokesperson of CBSE said. “We have a genuine concern to promote healthy eating and reduce childhood obesity; and while the government is providing a great deal of support and guidance on what constitutes a healthy school meal, and we work according to those guidelines, it could do more to encourage some parents to provide healthier packed lunches for their children.”
“Having a whole school food policy which encompasses packed lunches is one of the requirements of the Healthy Schools Standards (HSS),” Sharma added.
“Nowadays, the whole dimension of schooling has been changed and in order to impart all-round development in children, schools must co-operate with such progressive ideas. Inspecting food is a part of the exercise which focuses on the health aspect of the children and it also ensures their proper growth,”said Poonam Aggarwal, a nutritionist at the Max Hospital.
Aggarwal, who has been serving various committee on healthy food policies added, “The most prominent advocates of the board’s policy of food inspection are the dietitians. Children find themselves amidst a complex society that is undergoing breathtaking changes. Concepts, relationships, lifestyles are changed to keep up with the new jet-setting age. Food is no exception. Healthy nutritious foods have been replaced by the new food mantra – junk food!”
According to Aggarwal, the children in the age group of 5 to 12 should be fed dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheeses) and parents can replace milk to flavoured milk; whole-grain cereals and bread. The idea is that the food basket of any children should be a wholesome.
“The food that your kids eat should not only taste good but should also look good’, is a proverb which gets its true meaning when it comes to innocent children,” she added.
During a reality check conducted by Millennium Post in a government school in the Gaziabad’s Vaishali area, it was found two out of three government schools were not even aware of any such guidelines.
“We are over burdened with our work, inspecting food every day is a little tough,” said Anmol Mehta, a Physical Training (PT) teacher of government co-ed school in the same locality. The board has issued a chart map and it mentioned that consumption of food high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) has been found to be associated with many diseases including type II diabetes, hypertension among others. The circular has directed the schools to constitute School Canteen Management Committee comprising approximately 10 members, including teachers, parents, students and school canteen operators, to implement the guidelines to ensure the distribution of safe food in schools. The circular also asked the schools to ensure they promote physical activities for students up to Class 10 every day and rope in a nutritionist to guide students on lifestyle modifications, including yoga and healthy eating habits.
Besides, the board has also asked the schools to not only track the height, weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) of all the students but also counsel them and inform parents about good eating habits during parent-teacher meetings.
In addition, the circular has suggested that in order to spread awareness, celebration of Nutrition Week and other such events should be organised throughout the year by the schools.