What is your child eating at school?

Nutritious feeding is the foundation of growth and development, but in many schools, the idea of proper feeding is still a dream. Experts argue that poor feeding affects academic abilities of students,

Nutritious feeding is the foundation of growth and development, but in many schools, the idea of proper feeding is still a dream. Experts argue that poor feeding affects academic abilities of students,

KAMANZI, a prominent civil servant, studied in an uptown day primary school in Kigali. He packed break fast and lunch to school. In the evening, he had dinner with his family. But all this changed when he joined a boarding school in Senior One. The first meals he had gave him stomach aches. It took him several visits to the school sick bay for his stomach to adjust to school food.

Boarding school food rarely revoke good memories. Many people who have attended boarding school have painful memory of meal time. Simon, now a father of two, remembers his boarding school days with disappointment.

“I prefer to forget what I used to eat but the worst was breakfast; it was watery yellow porridge with some white granules. It was served in a big rusty drum normally used to store petroleum products.  And lunch time was the worst; the sight of the beans was terrible. They were mixed with stones, wood and sand.  I would swallow the beans like a large pill and try not to taste them. The meals were disgusting,” he says.

Are today’s schools any different?

A survey by Education Times in both private and public schools revealed a stark difference in feeding patterns.  Some schools have impressive menus, while others are disappointing.

Kagarama Secondary School follows a strict feeding schedule with a balanced diet. Students eat porridge for breakfast, beans mixed with greens and rice for lunch, and posho and beans for supper.

“On particular days, we serve matooke (bananas), cassava or sweet potatoes for lunch and posho with beans or ground nuts sauce and greens for supper,” said Samuel Nkurunziza, the head teacher.

Nkurunziza said the school also serves meat, eggs and fruits to the students twice a month and that the food their students eat is rich in carbohydrates, proteins, fats and vitamins.

Riviera High School also follows a rich feeding schedule. The school has a rather diverse menu. The Director of Studies, John Okech, says the menu includes rice, beans, spaghetti, and cabbages with a banana for desser,t while supper includes rice, beans, meatballs and Irish potatoes.

On some days, students are served groundnut sauce, vegetable sauce, meat, sweet potatoes, rice mixed with Irish potatoes and chapattis.

Nutritionists speak out

Nutritionists say students need high nutritional food values to help their brains function properly.

Gerald Luzindana, a consultant nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition and Reflexology Therapy, said students need fatty foods which are capable of producing enough fatty acids as these are vital in the process of brain growth and stability.

“These foods include fish like silver fish, salmon and other types of fish spices, these ones are a great source of omega 3 that helps in brain development. Formation of memory requires physical growth and reshaping of networks of brain cells,” he said.

He warns that many students, especially in public schools, do not know the importance of nutrition, as long as they have their breakfast and lunch served on time, adding that it is crucial to educate students, parents and school authorities about the values of nutritious foods to the growth and development of children in school.

“Students and the public should start eating quality instead of quantity. This will help one to have good nutritional values because our bodies are made by food and it is food that is supposed to be our first medicine,” Luzindana said.

Last year, the Ministry of Education ordered schools to stop selling foodstuff in canteens, citing health reasons. The State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Mathias Harebamungu, then told The New Times that the decision was reached after consultations with parents and teachers associations.

He argued that the decision was aimed at ensuring that all students consume nutritious foods in their boarding schools as some from poor families could not afford food items from the canteen. 

Although canteens were seen as alternatives to some children who are allergic to some foods or those suffering from ulcers, the minister said schools are required to include all the nutritious food items on their menu.

Magnitude of the problem

However, the problem of poor feeding is still persistent in many schools, not only in Rwanda, but across Africa as a whole.

Research carried out in Nigeria recently showed that most schools did not meet minimum safety standards of food storage and feeding.

In many schools, it was found that food was prepared in a kitchen made of zinc and children were fed unhygienic food.

The education ministry guidelines say a safe food store is one of the requirements of all schools to avoid compromising food safety.

“Head teachers should be the first inspectors to ensure that the health of their pupils is not compromised by unhygienic food stores,” said Emmy Munyaneza, a father of two girls in a boarding school.

He adds that health inspectors are supposed to regularly monitor what students eat.

“School stores are part of the inspection requirement for every school, management are also required to ensure that the students are eating safe food.”


Tips for school food hygiene and storage

Health experts say the source of poor food in schools could primarily be the poor storage facilities. While food stores in schools are supposed to be hygienic, most of them look like dumping rooms.    Jerry cans of paraffin, cooking oil and sacks of posho and beans are piled together in tiny rooms.  Some times school cutlery and cleaning utensils, like scrubbing brushes and soap are added.

Many schools don’t meet the basic food storage standards. In one of the schools visited by Education Times, a student who preferred to remain anonymous said just last term, students were almost going on strike because of the smell of paraffin in the porridge which went unexplained by the school authorities for a long time.

The regulation mark

The public health regulations compel schools to have hygienic kitchens and food storage facilities. The cooks should be medically examined and fit to avoid transmitting food-borne diseases. 

Every school must meet the food and hygiene conditions before it is licensed.

Medical experts warn that keeping food in the same room with essentials like like paraffin can contaminate the food. Students can easily get food poisoning.

However, experts say there are ways schools can be able to store food properly without contaminating it and without students having complications due to what they have eaten.

Diana Karungi, a nutritionist based in Kigali, advises schools to ensure that the food is not directly stored on the floor. She says, as a pre-requisite a school store should have storage racks and should not have damp conditions.


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