Hungry children cannot learn
The Supreme Court of India, the apex judicial body of the country, in 2001 decreed that all regional governments must provide children studying in government schools with a fresh, cooked lunch every day. Faced with challenges of logistics, reach and quality in implementing this ‘midday meal programme’ (the world’s largest school feeding programme) state governments were on the look-out for solutions. Naandi stepped up and offered the idea of setting up centralised Midday Meal Kitchens.
Congested urban schools rarely have space for kitchens, and in rural areas, especially remote ones, it is difficult to prepare a quality meal with the available budget due to poor economies of scale.
A practical solution was to set up large, centralised ‘steam and steel’ based kitchens mechanised for fast, safe and nutritious cooking with the capacity to serve entire urban areas and large rural clusters as well.
By the end of 2013, the children we were feeding numbered more than 1 million (1,107,777 and counting) across 10,453 schools in the country.
What a hungry child was getting
A variety of menus comprising rice and roti (bread) preparations, vegetables, cereals and lentils.
Lentils were fortified with iron, zinc and folic acid, and a periodic egg or a fruit/sweet was added to make the meal a wholesome and attractive one.
Dishes such as sweet pongal, vegetable biryani, and lime rice were items we used to include on popular demand from children. At least 15 variations of this menu was served on different days.
And children were welcome to unlimited helpings of the midday meal.
The cooked food used to remain untouched by hand till it was delivered to the school. Every kitchen equipment, vessel and premises was cleaned and disinfected every day. And mandatory use of head gear, gloves and sterilised clothing, pest control, anti- bacterial cleaning agents and cleaning power hoses were some of the protocols that were followed at all the kitchens to keep them clean, dry and contamination-free at all times.
Every day 4.30am onwards 22 kitchens across the country used to begin cooking ops that used to go on till 11.30am. Fitted with modern cooking and cleaning systems, tons of cereals and vegetables were steam cooked in the kitchens to maintain deadlines, keep the cooking hygienic and the nutrients intact.
Until 2013, Naandi was providing midday meals to government schools in:
Indore, Jabalpur, Bhopal.
Udaipur, Dungarpur, Jhadol, Jhalawar and Salumber (they have a sizeable population of adivasi communities), Bhilwara, Govindgarh, Gandhinagar, Gangrar, Kapasan, Kishangarh, Mandapiya, Nimbaheda, Bikaner and Kota.
Behrampur (adivasi area).
Korba (adivasi area).
The first central kitchen was set up in 2003 in Hyderabad. It was equipped to feed 150,000 children.
All children used to get their meal on time, even those who were studying in remote, hilly areas where kitchen staff used to carry the meals themselves and deliver them on foot traversing streams, inclines and dirt tracks.