What’s cooking in your school cafeteria?


The importance of nutrition cannot be underestimated, more so for growing kids. Since lunch break at schools is an integral meal-time for kids, it is important that they eat the right things. Here, award-winning cooking expert and cookbook author Nita Mehta shares the recipe for the right nutrition.

Importance of school cafeteria:

Perhaps the child’s first proper meal of the day is his lunch time at school as most of the kids just grab a glass of milk or a fruit in the morning before rushing to their school. And if you talk of government schools, then it is perhaps their only regular meal of the day. As such, good nutrition at the school cafeteria becomes all the more important.

Whether the child uses the school cafeteria regularly or not, it still plays an important role – children pick up eating habits from there. If the school cafeteria offers healthy and nutritious food, it influences the food choices of a child within his family and community. Thus, the child develops a healthy eating behaviour.

Nutritional facts:

Healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for proper growth and bone development and can prevent health problems such as obesity, dental caries, iron deficiency, etc. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat dairy products is recommended for people of all ages. It is important to limit intake of solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fatty acids), cholesterol, sodium, added sugars, and refined grains – in childhood too.

Selecting menu at the school cafeteria:

Menus at school cafeterias need to be given a serious thought. Make eating fruits and vegetables fun, so that kids make healthy choices. Sandwiches made of brown bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles can all be a part of a school cafeteria menu. Dairy foods like low-fat milk shakes, yoghurts and cheese can add flavour to it. Say no to aerated drinks at all costs. Provide a range of healthy foods and make their presentation attractive. Let the child love its sight first.

Processed foods like low-fat ice creams, juices, biscuits, etc can also be provided but maybe on select days only. Similarly, deep-fried foods, cakes, pastries etc can also be offered on select days.

Making food nutritious:

  • First of all see that good oil is used for cooking. Hydrogenated oils and margarine should be avoided. Also the oil should not be re-used many times for frying as this can break up the oil and it can become carcinogenic.
  • For sandwiches, use multi grain and brown bread. No white bread! Keep them light by using appropriate amount of filling especially mayonnaise. Finely chopped fruit like apples or raisins can also be added along with vegetables to mayonnaise.
  • Addition of vegetables like capsicum, carrots cabbage can make pasta and noodles healthier.
  • For burger tikkis, we can add soya nutri granules to enhance protein of vegetarian burger. Also peanuts can be added.
  • Samosa, tikki, rolls, cutlets can also be made nutritious with soya granules and nuts.
  • Cakes can be made with addition of vegetables and fruits like banana, pumpkin, carrot and apple. Also replacing maida partially with atta will make it healthier.

Different age, different needs:

On the one hand, children are picky eaters, and on the other, they would eat more if they like a particular food. It is also important to give them a right portion. Hence, it is important to design different portions in the school canteen, depending on the age of the children (for example, there can be three different portions for three age groups: K-5, 6-8 and 9-12).

To sum it up, schools should ensure that only nutritious and appealing foods and beverages are provided in school cafeterias. Besides, schools should make nutrition education a part of a comprehensive school health education plan.

Let the children make healthy choices…it will go a long way in their healthy development.

Your school cafeteria menu should be created to ensure that
students receive the proper nutrients as they need to think clearly,
concentrate on learning, and perform better in class.

For your school cafeteria nutritional requirements
and monthly menu preparation consultations
contact: nitamehta@nitamehta.com