Nutritionists explore how daily school meals impact on children’s lives
By Sukaina Ishmail 4m ago
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Cape Town – International nutritionists, worried about children dependent on just the one meal per day provided to disadvantaged schools, have explored ways to ensure these children are fed properly.
The Embassy of Finland has hosted a webinar with nutritional experts from South Africa and Finland to discuss the food challenges facing many young children.
Finland was one of the first countries to start serving free school meals to children as they were once the poorest country in Europe (70 years ago). South Africa is currently serving more than nine million school learners, a plate of food each day.
Finnish National Agency for Education counsellor Marjaana Manninen, said: “Daily meals are served free of charge daily in Finland and it has been the first country to do so. Good eating habits in childhood prevents many problems, it serves as a long term investment in learning. No system is ready until it responds to local needs.”
She said the positive effect of nutritious meals has an impact on children for the rest of their lives.
University of Pretoria Department of Human Nutrition head, Heather Legodi, said: “67% of South African children are from poor households which is quite high. The poverty rate of children aged 0-17 years are 68% black and 11% white. School feeding programs have increased school enrolment by an average of 9%.”
She said these daily meals help to improve a child's education while protecting household food insecurity.
“The nutritional composition of these meals is quite a priority for the children. The food meals provided also help them to make healthy food choices,” she said.
Legodi said the temporary school closures due to Covid-19 had also impacted children’s preventative care, mental health, organized activity, and increased their sedentary behaviour.
“Children classified as hungry are twice as likely to be receiving special education and to have repeated a grade,” she said.
Chief Education Specialist in the Department of Education’s National School Nutrition programme, Carina Müller, said: “Nutritious meals being served to school learners also creates 56 000 volunteer food handlers who prepare and cook the meals. There are also 6000 service providers and SMME’s.”