Nutrition in children has been the subject of immense research and study, especially its role in the neurocognitive development of children from the womb to childhood. Neurocognitive development refers to the development of the brain and knowledge and skills that help children think and understand the world around them. Studies have shown that insufficient nutrition in children puts them at a high risk of exhibiting impaired cognitive skills. The quality and quantity of food available to students affect both their academic performance and their body weight as compared to other children in the same age group1.
In India, initiatives to improve children’s nutrition have a long history. It was in 1923 that the then Madras Presidency began providing mid-day meals in schools. Post-independence, it was in the mid-1980s that three states began a universal midday meal programme for primary schoolchildren followed by nine more states by 19912. In August 1995, began the national Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS)3, a government-sponsored scheme that today covers all school children studying in Classes 1 to 8 in government and government-aided schools and addresses the issues related to nutrition and health of children through the provision of a healthy meal.
While the Mid-Day Meal Scheme has been a success, expanding over time to now feed the largest number of children in any country in the world, it is now time to extend its scope to breakfasts, which is the most important meal of the day. Eating a complete and balanced breakfast every morning is important and impacts both student wellness and performance in the classroom. Studies also indicate that children who regularly eat breakfast are generally healthier and do well in school. A healthy, nutritious breakfast satisfies children’s hunger, with students making more healthy decisions about their other meals in school as they are not driven by hunger4.
While some children have the opportunity to eat breakfast at home, many do not do so. As a result, many students may not eat their first meal until lunchtime. This may trigger morning hunger and the reasons for this can range from lack of time to affordability. Many children have schools that begin early in the morning and some children also need to catch their school bus or other modes of transport to reach school on time. This lack of time can easily be solved by serving breakfast cereals that are nutritious and quick to make. Mixed with milk, cereals make for a quick filling and nourishing breakfast meal.
For children from underprivileged families, affordability is a major reason for children coming to school hungry. Due to financial challenges, some parents cannot adequately feed their children with healthy, well-balanced meals and end up skipping breakfast meals. When these children come to school hungry, they are not in the ideal state to learn as hunger will be on top of their minds, while they wait for their mid-day meal, given most of them are students of government or government-aided schools.
To address the issue of affordability, it is important for the Government and organizations that work in food and nutrition domain to establish sustainable programs, so that unprivileged children can get nutritious food frequently. This has been recognized in the new National Education Policy 2020, which proposes that the Mid-Day Meal Scheme should be supplemented by breakfast. The policy highlights how a nutritious breakfast in the morning can enhance productivity in students and help in the study of cognitively more demanding subjects. Tamil Nadu has taken the lead by launching a breakfast scheme covering Classes 1 to 5 in government schools5.
Morning hunger and its fallout can be addressed through simple breakfast options including breakfast cereals and milk to provide a filling, nutritious meal for children to begin their school day Addressing morning hunger through breakfast in addition to the mid-day meal will also help make a significant impact on education in India.
About The Author: Dr.Pankaj Jethwani is the Co-founder of The Breakfast Revolution.
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