“It is the same sambar everyday,” admits Suganya, a high school student, trying to reason the wastage at noon meal centres where she acknowledges food is passably palatable.
School students in Tiruchi district may soon get a break from the daily routine of rice, sambar and boiled egg. The monotonous menus are all set for a makeover with healthy and delicious alternatives like tomato rice, groundnut pulao and vegetable biryani to be prepared by noon meal workers.
The initiative to tweak noon meal menus with imagination, nutrition and variation was introduced by the district administration through a training programme by Chef Dhamu for noon meal workers from 25 centres on Tuesday.
While smells of roast spices wafting in the air and shrill whistles of a pressure cooker may have indicated a kitchen setting, the cooking demonstration by the celebrity chef was actually in the middle of the playground at a government school in Allur near Tiruchi.
“The obvious question is whether it is possible to prepare these dishes with the provisions allotted under the scheme and stick to the budget,” said District Collector Jayshree Muridharan who kick-started the pilot project. “No extra ingredients have been bought. These dishes can be prepared with whatever grains and vegetables provided everyday.”
As an experiment, noon meal workers prepared Tuesday's staple menu of sambar rice, boiled egg and groundnut sundal for 100 students. But Chef Dhamu , using the same ingredients turned out groundnut pulao, roasted potatoes and tossed eggs in a mixture of pepper and coriander powder.
“Not all that is served everyday is consumed by students. But it was heartening to see children polishing their plates,” said Ms.Muralidharan. She motivated noon meal workers, “You must take pride in your work, as you don the role of mothers by preparing hot food for scores of children.”
The women trained in the pilot programme would train workers from other centres during the summer vacation.
“I have seen students play ball with hard boiled eggs made in noon meal centres. For children to eat well, we need to cook well,” Mr.Dhamu told workers demonstrating how a dash of pepper or a smatter of chilli powder can spice up a meal.
Avoid food poisoning
Many of the workers were thrilled at receiving practical hints in offsetting excesses in salt, chilli powder and tamarind.
Insisting that safety and hygiene were paramount, he suggested, “If you wash all vegetables with water, turmeric and salt, you can rule out all chances of food poisoning,” said Mr.Dhamu. Though cleaning utensils, keeping cooking range spick and span, and covering all chopped vegetables were important, preparing and serving food with love was foremost, he said.
While Rs.14 is allotted per child covering firewood, oil , rice , centres are granted 70 paise per head to purchase vegetables and condiments. M.Uma, a worker from Kuriviyan kulam said, “It might be difficult to make all these dishes owing to escalating prices of daily provisions, but we can definitely provide students more variety in their mid-day meal.”