While officials are trying to find what caused glossitis, inflammation of the tongue among students of Tshenkharla Central School, the need to improve school feeding programme or healthy balanced meals is being stressed.

Nutrition problems with school meals is an old issue.  In many cases it is skewed towards carbohydrates to the extent that parents threaten misbehaving children of punishing them by sending them to boarding schools and let them suffer with kewa tshoem (potato curry).

Feeding hundreds of children three times a day is difficult and ensuring a balanced diet on a shoestring budget is difficult. When price of fruits and vegetables are skyrocketing, we can only imagine including fruits on the menu in central schools. The easy part is to educate children on the importance of a healthy balanced diet. Putting them into practice requires more than knowing the importance.

The Tshenkharla case may be an isolated case but it reminds us about the importance of a balanced diet in schools. Meat and egg are considered delicacies and are rare in schools even if school authorities know it is important. The demand, shortage, and the price are not helping students.

Improving the variety of vegetables is recommended. But again it is easier said than done. There is shortage and the lockdown has amplified the problem. Despite all these hurdles, school meals should receive priority. We cannot have our future generations growing up on vitamin supplements. They should get it through proper food.

Stipend for school feeding programme has been raised from Nu 1,000 to Nu 1,300 a month per student. The question is, is it enough? We know that given the inflation rate, Nu 1,000 can buy only a bagful of vegetables for a small family for a week. If we try to be adventurous with our choice, the basket becomes even smaller.

The pressure and the quality of food will suffer as we try to take in more students in public schools after doing away with the Class X cut-off points. It means there will be more students and more mouths to feed and more pressure on the school authorities. Increasing the stipend seems to be a solution even if it cost the government coffer. It is better to invest in what we call our future generation than schools producing malnourished students or if students are falling ill because of lack of nutrition in their meals.

When the food provided in the school mess is not good, students tend to resort to junk food. This puts more pressure on students who cannot afford to eat in the school canteen or store junk food in their trunks.

School authorities should explore options. Some are doing it and have tied with farmers and suppliers. Some are trying to grow their own food through school agriculture programmes (SAP). Some schools are successful in this as they produce not only vegetables, but also meat and egg. SAP could be the way forward, not only for varieties in vegetables, but also in preparing students of alternative means of employment.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of growing our own food. Not all students will go on to become engineers or doctors or “Dashos”. Some will have to return to their farms. If they have the knowledge to grow food, it will help the chart out a livelihood and,perhaps, be able to supply varieties of vegetables to the schools they went to.