Course Meal

As hands of the clock on the classroom wall inch towards 10.30 am, students at Little Footprints School in Gurgaon put aside their play blocks and head to the table. While one of them helps the teacher in putting out plates, the rest head to the washbasin to clean their hands. After a short prayer, the teacher brings in food prepared in a house a few blocks away. The menu varies from rajma-chawal to vegetable cutlets, fruit custard and idlis. "Healthy meals reduce the intake of junk food," says principal Tanuja Krishnatray.

Several pre-schools across the NCR share her belief. Lunch hour no longer means children digging into their bag for home food, as some schools are providing nutritious meals. "It is important to introduce the right diet in formative years. It works better if the school too takes an interest, as parents can only monitor the meals at home," says Rajni who has enrolled her three-year-old Shubbhansh at Ida Childcare and Education, a playschool and day-care centre that opened at Gurgaon last week. A typical meal for a six-month-old includes bananas, mashed avocados, steamed apples and pears and baked zucchini, while seven-to-nine-month-olds are introduced to muesli, tofu and yogurt, among others. Children in the playgroup will get whole-wheat pita, spinach tortilla, cucumber salads, noodles with sweet and sour vegetables, corn nachos, soy-banana muffin, fruit juices and smoothies all prepared in the school kitchen. "We serve organic produce, no white flour or white sugar is used," says principal Jyoti Guha. Its directors Rishal and Ritika Sawhney were working with French nutritionist Veronique to draw up meal plans before the school opened.

At Step by Step at Panchsheel, meanwhile, culinary expert Nita Mehta was consulted. The school does not provide meals, but parents are given a menu that features food to be packed for students.

"In a classroom where children are with friends, they tend to try food they otherwise might not," says Prabhat Vaibhav whose son Abeer, 3, goes to Shemrock Heritage, Rohini. He has observed changes in the kid's food preferences: "Earlier he insisted on burgers, but now he's willing to try other things." Designed by nutritionist Bimla Arora, the menu at the school comprises puddings, custard, semolina and porridge. Treats are not unusual. "The diet should be wholesome, so we celebrate with cakes and sweets," says Amol Arora, MD, Shemrock Schools. Rupa Bhatnagar, principal, Toddler Junction, Gurgaon, agrees: "Children can get bored, so having a variety is important."

At Modern Montessori International, GK II, healthy meals in the cafeteria are accompanied by sessions in the garden where toddlers work on the vegetable patch. If in winter turnip and corn are sown, the summer crop is okra and potatoes. "This helps them learn about veggies," says Sujata Sundaresan, principal.

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