School canteens in Solo aim for healthy food for every child

School canteens in Solo aim for healthy food for every child

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Marieke van Schoonhoven
Marieke van Schoonhoven
Eos Tracé

Every school day, nine hundred hot lunches are prepared in the kitchen of the Islamic primary school Muhammadiyah in Solo. “We buy our products fresh every day from regular suppliers. The rice, for example, comes directly from a farmer's cooperative in Boyolali, a region near here. And the children themselves have a say in what's put on the weekly menu – within our offering of healthy meals, of course.”

A proud English teacher, who gives us a tour of the small canteen and kitchen of the private primary school, says: "We work with several breaks, so all students find a place in the canteen, in turns." He shows us the wall with certificates. “We've collected a total of 35, for various achievements, such as a hygienic kitchen, a healthy food selection and a waste-free canteen. We were the first school in Solo that fully met the healthy canteen standards. According to that standard, for example, suppliers need to have a certificate that they deliver safe food. Every three months someone comes to the school to take samples to check the quality of the food in a lab and every six months they check whether food preparation in the kitchen is sufficiently hygienic.”

At the checkout, another teacher proudly tells us that the school accepts e-money. "It's faster and allows us to check that children don't spend more than the 15,000 Rupiah (EUR 0.95 ed) that parents pay per day for their children's lunch."

Guidelines for healthy school meals for everyone

Our goal is for every child in Solo to have access to healthy food. School is a second home for children, where they spend at least eight hours a day for at least nine years. Healthy eating and drinking are therefore essential to feel good and perform well
Titik Eka Sasanti Gita Pertiwi Foundation

Muhammadiyah is a textbook example of what a healthy school canteen can look like. In Solo, they are an exception to the rule. A recent study by the NGO Gita Pertiwi (2018) shows that 48 percent of the food that is offered in school canteens in Solo consists of junk food, such as fried food or chicken nuggets. Hot meals are not even regularly offered at the schools. Often, children carry a lunch box with them from home and at school they can only buy snacks rich in carbohydrates, with limited fruits or vegetables in them.

Muhammadiyah is one of the ten schools now supported by Gita Pertiwi to pave the way to healthy school canteens. Among other things, the organisation provides training to cooks to prepare healthy meals. It also supervises schools in terms of environmental impact and hygiene according to the local "healthy canteen standard" it has drawn up with the Health Department, the Education Department and the "Empowerment Office" of the city. This means they go one step further than the national standard, which focuses on health and hygiene issues only.

The standard hasn't been approved yet. We had to defend the draft version to the city authorities, which are now looking into whether they'll endorse it or not. We expect this to happen in the course of 2020. We think they'll give their approval because, in 2016, Solo committed to becoming a child-friendly city according to the ‘Child Friendly Cities Initiative’ of UNICEF. And that includes healthy food for children.

Hartoyo Education Department of Solo

Moreover, the mayor of the city, F. X. Hadi Rudyatmo, has formulated a vision to make his city ‘smart.’ That initiative was named 'Waras Wareg Wasis,’ which in Javanese means something like 'Healthy, Full belly, Smart.’ School canteens need to meet those three basic principles.

"The draft version of the standard Gita Partiwi has drawn up with the city departments consists of five important pillars," Hartoyo explains. "The first deals with everything related to 'infrastructure': the facilities that are needed in a healthy school canteen, such as a large enough kitchen with the necessary equipment.

The second pillar is about 'food safety': where does the food come from, who is the supplier, and do they have the necessary certificates?

Then there's 'management': it describes how a school canteen and kitchen should be managed in a professional manner. This includes environmental aspects such as sorting waste and encouraging families to give children their own lunch box and water bottle.

The fourth pillar on which the standard is based is 'food control', in particular that controls should be carried out on a regular basis, including through sampling. The intention is not to punish if things aren't done correctly, but to teach staff how to then improve those matters.

Finally, we have 'promotion' as a fifth pillar: it refers to raising awareness about the importance of healthy food for school children, both among staff and students."

Fifteen schools in total now apply the national healthy canteen standard in Solo, according to Hartoyo of the city's Education Department. “Ten of these are private schools, with parents generally having an income that is above average, and five are public schools, attended by children with low-income parents. The latter schools receive extra subsidies, so that the added cost of healthy, safe food does not weigh upon the parents."

Dyah Anggraini of the Health Department adds: "We try to make healthy meals at school accessible to everyone, using local, affordable ingredients such as cassava, tapioca, banana and coconut. In schools where children do not have much to spend for their meals, for example, we give a third of an egg rather than a whole egg per child. And we do not provide fruit juice, but water, which is healthier and cheaper. At private schools, that would be more expensive mineral water. Both at private and public schools we apply lab tests to test the safety of food, but we subsidise these tests at public schools." The partners who jointly established the local guidelines for healthy school canteens have a clear goal in mind.

If the city council approves our plan and provides more resources for the 256 primary schools, 83 technical schools and more than one hundred secondary schools in Solo, we can systematically expand the number of canteens that meet the healthy canteen standard. Our ideal scenario is that we have a legal regulation by 2030 and that every school canteen in Solo will offer safe, healthy and high-quality food by then.

Dyah Anggraini Health Department of Solo

Stunting: a double problem

There is a reason why healthy food for everyone is on the agenda of the city of Solo. Today, the goal is a far cry from reality in this Javanese city and other cities in Indonesia. According to the latest figures (2018), 36.4 percent of children under five in Indonesia suffer from stunting, or retarded growth. This puts Indonesia in the top five of countries when it comes to the number of stunted children.

Stunting refers to disturbed growth and development in children due to poor nutrition, repeated infections and insufficient psychosocial stimulation. A total of 8.4 million children in Indonesia are exceptionally short for their age and suffer from chronic malnutrition. The real problem is not the stunting itself, but the reduced brain development that goes with it. Stunting also increases the risk for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and heart problems.

This combination of disturbed development and the high risk of non-communicable diseases is also referred to as the "double burden" of malnutrition. The Indonesian government is aware of this, though, so in 2017, the country's vice-president issued a national strategy to step up the fight against stunting by diversifying nutrition. In addition, a five-year plan is being prepared for 2020-2024, according to which stunting should be reduced by 40 percent. These goals have been formulated in the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Unfortunately, a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), UNICEF and other aid agencies indicated that the proportion of people not having enough to eat has stagnated since 2015, at 11 percent. In absolute figures, the number is even increasing again. Providing school meals is mentioned as one of the measures to combat malnutrition, being effective and relatively simple to implement.



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