India is home to the highest number of undernourished children. It also has one of the largest school lunch programs in the world—the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme. It is a national program that was launched by the government of India on 15th August 1995. Malnutrition and lack of education have been 2 of the pressing problems for the majority of children in India. This scheme was designed and initiated to better the nutritional standing of school-age children nationwide.
The Mid-Day Meal is a government-approved centrally sponsored scheme that ensures that one hot cooked meal is supplied on all school days, to children between the ages of 6 to 14 years studying in government schools and government-aided schools. The meal served is free of cost and it is served within the school premises.
Tamil Nadu was the first state to implement this scheme in 1995. By 2002 the scheme was implemented in all the states under the orders of the supreme court. The food is prepared as per the government guidelines and the evaluation of the quality of the food is done by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) of the respective state.
Mid-Day Meal Food Details:
A series of changes have been made to the Mid-Day Meal Scheme over the past few years, from the time of its implementation. Currently, a single afternoon lunch usually contains a locally available cereal. Each child receives milk, and soup or vegetables cooked as a curry. Under the scheme of the Indian government, each primary level student must be provided with 100 grams of food grains each day, along with 20 grams of protein, 50 grams of leafy vegetables and 5 grams of oil and fat. Upper-primary students must be provided with 150 grams of food grains, 30 grams of protein, 75 grams of leafy vegetables and 7.5 grams of oil and fat.
In accordance with nutritional guidelines, primary level students are given 450 calories with 12 grams of proteins each day and senior and upper-primary level students are given 700 calories including 20 grams of proteins each day. For micro-nutrients like vitamins, iron and folic acid tablets, students can get them from the National Health Mission.
In September 2021, this scheme was renamed as the PM Poshan (Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman) Yojana. It has been approved to continue for 5 years, from 2021-22 to 2025-26. Children in the age group of 1 to 5 years coming into Pre-primary or Bal Vatika will also be covered under the PM Poshan Yojana. Mid-Day Meal has improved the children’s school attendance, reducing the number of school dropouts while also having a beneficial impact on children’s nutrition. The main objective of the PM Poshan Yojana is to reduce malnutrition prevalent in women, children and adolescent girls.
Benefits of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme:
Improves the effectiveness of primary education by improving the nutritional status of primary school children.
Prevents children from classroom hunger.
Encourages poor children, belonging to disadvantaged sections, to attend school more regularly and helps them concentrate on classroom activities.
Lowers among children - stunting caused by nutritional deficiencies/malnutrition.
Improves socialisation among children of different castes.
Empowers women through employment opportunities.
Helps incorporate good habits among children like washing hands before and after meals, washing their utensils, sitting in queue and waiting for their turn to be served, etc.
Mothers who used to stop their work earlier to feed their children at home, no longer need to do so now.
Girls who had access to the free lunches provided at government schools, had children with a higher height-to-age ratio.
Implementation of the Mid Day Meal Scheme is done based on 3 models:
Decentralised Model: In this model, the meals are prepared by local cooks, self help groups, etc.
Centralised Model: In this model, an external organisation cooks food and delivers it to the schools.
International Assistance: In this model, the various international charity organizations aid in funding the government schools to help them continue the provision of this scheme.
The Central Government supplies the full requirement of food grains for the program free of cost. For its implementation in rural area schools and Anganwadis, Panchayats and Nagarpalikas are also involved in setting up the necessary infrastructure for preparing cooked food. For this purpose NGOs, women’s groups and parent-teacher councils are utilised. The total charges for cooking, supervision and kitchen are eligible for assistance under the Poverty Alleviation Program. In several states, supplementary feeding was assisted by food supplies from Cooperation for American Relief Everywhere (CARE) and World Food Program (WFP).
Challenges Faced in the Implementation of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme:
Food has to be prepared in large quantities and given to the students. Adulteration and poor quality food supplied is a common problem.
Due to the lack of food quality, many students may not eat the food and throw it away which leads to wastage of food.
There are provisions for regular social audits, field visits and inspections but these are seldom carried out.
Food is central to the caste system, so in many schools, children are made to sit separately according to their caste status.
Many cooks who prepare the mid-day meal do not receive timely payments which may affect their productivity.
Fake enrolments are on a rise due to the provision of the mid-day meal scheme which poses a financial problem.
The lack of infrastructure for storing, cooking, serving and transportation of food is problematic in some rural areas.
Lack of safety provisions and unhygienic surroundings, etc.
Corrupt practices lead to funds provided for Mid-Day Meals not being put to good use.
During the lockdown, due to the severe disruption of public services, including nutrition-related services, the midday meals, in particular, were discontinued as most schools and anganwadis were closed in most states.
There are various advantages and disadvantages of the mid-day meal scheme. However, despite the challenges, the scheme helps ensure that students feel motivated to enroll in schools and also retain their enrolment. Mid-day meals play a vital role, especially in the education of underprivileged children. Continued participation from the public, regular surveillance and inspection as well as sustained interest in the scheme from the ruling political groups will ensure the success of this program.