Hot-cooked meals served at anganwadis should be replaced with nutrition packets as the food being served at the centres is not calorie-dense, women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi has suggested. Her suggestions come at a time the government is in the final stages of preparing its nutrition guidelines that will lay out the ideal composition for a meal to be served at anganwadis or schools as midday meal.
Maneka’s suggestion of giving pre-mix packets (or Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Foods) has, however, been rejected by a government committee which has prepared the draft nutrition guidelines, sources said. The committee has only recommended ways to improve the quality of hot-cooked meals at anganwadi centres, they said. At a national conference on under-nutrition today, Maneka said that presently supplementary nutrition are given in the form of take-home ration or hot-cooked meals.
“I want to bring about a complete change in supplementary nutrition,” she said. “We stop thinking of it as giving food…we don’t give food anymore…khaana nahi dena…we give nutrition.” The union minister expressed hope that the move will help improve nutritional intake as the food being served at anganwadis “is not calorie-dense”.
She added there was a need to give a minimum 1,000 calories to a pregnant woman and 600 to a baby. Maneka explained that the pre-mix nutrition (energy-dense, micro-nutrient enriched paste or powder) could be given in a package and delivered to a beneficiary through a postman.
The government provides food, preschool education, and primary healthcare under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Angnwadi centres are also linked to the ICDS. Undert the scheme, a child between 6 months to 3 years, as well as pregnant and lactating mothers till six months after birth, get take-home ration. Children between 3 years and 6 years get hot-cooked meals.
Right to Food campaign activist Dipa Sinha, however, says effecting this change will not be very easy. “Both Supreme Court order and the National Food Security Act say that children between three to six years should be served hot-cooked meals. So the law will have to be amended to implement this.”
Soumya Swaminathan, Director General, Indian Council for Medical Research, said there is nothing to beat hot-cooked fresh food, but one has to ensure quality and quantity. “The (nutrition) packages are useful in feeding children with acute malnutrition. It should be seen as a therapeutic food and should not replace your normal diet,” she told reporters at the event.
Earlier this month, the NITI Aayog released the National Nutrition Strategy wherein it has questioned the efficacy of the take-home ration scheme and the quality of food supplements provided under the ICDS. It has said the scheme has been plagued with complaints of leakages, poor quality food supplement.
“Pilots may be initiated in a few districts to test the efficacy of implementing the ICDS supplementary nutrition component though cash transfers,” it has recommended. Government officials say that a pilot project is now likely to be carried out in selected villages and blocks in 100 districts.
The union minister, without referring to the NITI Aayog proposal, said cash transfers “don’t make sense”. “A direct benefit transfer in the form of money makes no sense because in Rs 180 there is no way a mother can feed herself or feed the baby for more than three days. (Since) we buy at wholesale rates, we are able to collect this amount of food,” Gandhi said at the event.
She added there was no way of knowing how the money would be utilised.