We all understand that a nutritious diet is essential for good health. When it comes to children in schools, serving nutritious meals should be a requirement and not an option. Every child must get the best nutrition. Schools should therefore follow a good standard of menu planning. Menu planning is the process of deciding what will be served in each meal. It also includes how many meals to plan for and the quantity and time of day it is to be served to the students. The most important consideration for menu planning is that it meets children's nutritional needs. Besides this many other aspects are involved in school meal planning.
School Menu Planning Considerations:
FSSAI: Schools must ensure that they are following the standards set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)
Quality: Meals provided must be a balanced one that is nutrient dense. It should include foods from all the food groups, namely cereals & grains, vegetables & fruits, proteins and fats.
Budget: It is important to keep in mind the budget that is made available for school meals and work efficiently around it. How much do the ingredients cost? Does it come in a small or big package? Can it be used in other recipes before it goes bad? It may not be worth the money to buy ingredients that may be used only once.
Age: Age group of students is important when planning menus for them. For example, when menu planning for day cares where children/babies as young as 6 months will need to be fed, It is important to take into account the parent’s weaning procedures to food introductions and textures. Serving sizes should be pre-determined for various age groups of children. Children may eat different amounts of foods depending on their appetites, activity levels, food preferences, size and age.
Developing a Cycle Menu: A cycle menu is a plan for meals and snacks created for a certain period of time and repeated. For example, menus can be planned for four to six weeks and then repeated throughout the school year. Fixed rotational menus can be made fun with alternatives to the main ingredients in the recipes. Pair familiar foods with new foods. Include a new food several times within your cycle menu. Students may need to see a food many times before accepting it.
Go Seasonal Go Local: Locally & seasonally available ingredients are the best way to ensure optimal nutritional content of the foods. Seasonal produce comes loaded with a lot of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and equips the body to deal with the excesses of the local weather that it is going to face.
Appearance & Presentation: Visual tasting experience comes down to good or bad food presentation. If the food looks appetising, you're more likely to want to try it and enjoy it when you do. Kids eat with their eyes first. If they see something that looks and smells good, you have a better chance that they will taste it, and like it, and keep eating it. Make healthy foods look attractive and desirable.
Facility Equipment & Labour Limitations: Productivity is influenced by the flow of work, the equipment, and its placement. In addition, kitchens should be designed to enhance their visual appeal and facilitate their cleaning and maintenance. They should be located so they are convenient to food storage, holding and serving areas. Prepping, cooking & cleaning should not be expected to be excessive for the staff.
Safety: Food safety is especially important in schools since children can be more susceptible to food-borne illnesses. All the ingredients used in the meal menus must be stored, cooked and served following good hygiene rules. Pesticides and similar toxic substances must not be stored with or near any food. Soaps and cleaning compounds must be stored separately from food. Kitchens and food areas should be kept clean to prevent any kind of contamination.
Reduce Food Waste: Meal planning is an effective way to reduce food waste and save on food bills. It is important to prepare an itemised grocery list of the exact ingredients that will be needed for the recipes planned in the menu. Keep a record of ingredients in stock so that they can be used before they expire. Store the ingredients in proper food-grade containers to prevent it from going bad faster. Reflect on what goes to waste each week so that proper steps can be taken to avoid the waste in future meal plans. Utilisation of food scraps and waste in compost making can be encouraged in schools, especially if kitchen gardening is taught as a integrated topic in the school program.
School nutrition professionals are dietitians who hold degrees and professional practice in child nutrition, menu planning and food service management. They are individuals at the forefront of literally shaping our future. It is only now that many nations are actually recognising the need to not just feed, but also educate our children from an early age.