Tamil Nadu Breakfast Scheme: Phase I implementation; reactions from officials, teachers and students 

Free Breakfast Scheme launched in Tamil Nadu government schools; implemented in 1,545 elementary schools across the state till now
Students of Chennai Managarachi Thodhakka Palli having breakfast | Pic: Sourced
Students of Chennai Managarachi Thodhakka Palli having breakfast | Pic: Sourced

“Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day and even today, thousands of students around the country skip their breakfast because most families cannot afford it. This drastically affects their education, examination scores and health in the long run,” said Kaviganesan Veeraswamy, Councillor, Thiruvottiyur Constituency, Chennai, talking about the importance of breakfast and the Kalaiunavu Thittam (Breakfast Scheme) introduced in Tamil Nadu a few months ago. 

On September 15 this year, the Breakfast Scheme in Tamil Nadu was implemented in 1,545 government elementary schools across the state and 37 schools in Chennai, in the first phase. This scheme involves providing healthy and hygienic breakfast to government school students from Classes I to V. The last two months saw the implementation of the first phase of the scheme and it has received a good response. “Everyone is very satisfied with this scheme, especially the parents as their children have access to healthy nutritious meals every day,” said R Priya, Mayor of Chennai. 

From the kitchen to plates
To ensure the food is uniform and hygienic, six to seven schools have a common kitchen where the food is being prepared. The preparation of food starts at 3.00 am and is ready by 6.45 am. The prepared food is inspected every day by the Sanitation Inspector (SI) appointed for every division. The food is then packed in hot packs and transported via vans to the respective schools by 7.45 am. 

“The food arrives in hot packs and is on time. Since most students do not have breakfast, their reaction has been extremely positive and this has improved attendance as well. The food is also really tasty and the menu provided is also hygienic,” said Bhuvana, Meal Organiser, Madurai. Everyone appointed for this process, from the cooks, transporters and people who handle the food, are from the corporation of Chennai or the respective districts and have been trained before phase 1 of the scheme was implemented. 

How do we know the food is not tampered with while being transported? After the food is loaded into the vehicle, the truck is locked by the head supervisor of the kitchen. Only the headmaster or the supervisor of the respective schools can open the trucks and unload the food because only they have copies of the key. This is to make sure that the food is not contaminated during transportation said R Sarumathi, Sanitary Inspector, Division 12, Chennai. It is also ensured that the food reaches every school by 8.15 am every day.

Now or never!
“It was noted that several students are skipping their breakfast to reach school on time or because of the economic condition of their families. Now, the process to implement the Breakfast Scheme is in the works,” said Mayor Priya. She also added that they are looking for common kitchens that are in equal proximity to at least five or six schools. The state government is mainly focusing on the development of the education sector and the welfare of the people, this Breakfast Scheme is one of the schemes, along with several other schemes, that are now being implemented by the state government for the students, added the Mayor. 

The Breakfast Scheme has resulted in a spike in the attendance of students in the past two months, say officials. “Previously, students used to get only mid day meal at school now, they have access to two healthy meals a day and this has not only led to 100% attendance, but the students have also started arriving to school on time without any delays because the parents are also pushing the students to go to school, at least just for food,” said Kaviganesan, adding that several schools have seen an increase in the enrollment of students. He also added, “The Breakfast Scheme is a good start for the students before school begins. Weekly twice, for inspection purposes, I have breakfast with the students at the Chennai Managarachi Thodhakka Palli (Chennai corporation elementary school) which is under my Division (Division 12) and interact with the students.” 

R Sarumathi, Sanitary Inspector, Division 12, Chennai, narrated the story of one school located on the outskirts of the city and most students who study there are children of daily wage workers. For them, breakfast is a luxury and, “I am glad that we are able to provide breakfast to these students who really need it,” she said. Several students work every morning and as a result, arrive at school only for the mid day meal in the afternoon. The scheme has improved the number of students who arrive early and attend the morning prayer. 

“I can also very evidently see a difference in their energy and concentration in the past couple of months,” said Reena Jeevanesam,  a teacher at Chennai Managarachi Thodhakka Palli. She also added, “After COVID, several families have faced a financial strain and this scheme has filled the stomach of over 70 students in my school and the hearts of all the parents of these students.”

There is always room for improvement
While talking about how successful the scheme is, Kaviganesan also mentioned that in his division, for now, the students are being served only upma (a dish made of dry-roasted semolina or coarse rice flour) with vegetable sambar for breakfast. After suggestions from students, they are now serving sugar with upma whenever sambar is unavailable. “I have also sent a request to Anbil Mahesh, Minister for School Education, to serve other dishes and asked for the possibility of distributing kanji (a porridge made with millets, pulses or rice), which can be served between breakfast and lunch. It is not about the money, it is about the health of our children.”

Students speak
A Class IV student from Chennai Managarachi Thodhakka Palli, Nirmala T, said, “The Breakfast Scheme is very good and I have breakfast and lunch daily at school. The food is also really tasty, but we are being served upma every day with vegetable sambar, it would be better if they served upma with tomato chutney or other tiffins such as idly, dosa or chapathi.” 

Another Class V student, Nagaarul N, shared, “I often used to skip breakfast and now I am having breakfast every day. I feel more energetic, but I would like it better if they serve dishes other than upma.”

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