Freshly Cooked School Lunches (at public schools in El Salvador)

School lunch: How many would consider this nutritious? For one, it lacks color. Some red, but that’s about it. Chicken, a small piece of tomato, rice and tortilla. Plus a sugar Hi-C for a drink. I’d give it a C because it could be a lot worse, but it could also be much better.

In 2010, the Ministry of Education in El Salvador undertook a project – Provision of Local Food, Education and Health – to start providing freshly cooked school lunches at public schools around the country. The goal of the project is to help women set up small businesses that provide school lunches, which then feed children for free – incentivizing the children to attend school. The project has three outcomes: strengthening local economies, improving school attendance rates, and enhancing child nutrition. With funding from the World Food Program (WFP), the women have received training in good hygiene practices, how to develop healthy and nutritious meals, and other safety or sanitary procedures, as well as good small business management skills. The WFP has also provided funding for some of the women to increase the capacities of their kitchens in order to cook on a larger scale. The women intend to continue investing to increase the capacity of their kitchens, reinvesting the money they earn to keep their workplace up to the sanitary standard required by the schools.

Students helping themselves to freshly made pesto pasta. Fresh healthy food is delicious too!

The lessons the women have learned in their job training have also been transferred to their day-to-day lives. Knowing more about healthy nutritional habits have allowed them to provide their family with meals that will keep them not just fed, but nutritionally satiated as well. The women have also learned about seasoning food with fresh herbs, disinfecting fresh fruits and vegetables, wearing hair nets, safe hand-washing, water purification, and many other techniques that will have a lasting impact on their lives and their children’s lives. One woman started a business that now provides daily lunch for nearly 500 students in a small town in the eastern department of La Union. Another group of five women in the department of Cuscutlan have band together to form an association that provides 300 daily school meals. They have a shared kitchen that has been stocked with new equipment. They took out a loan of $2500, which at first scared them, but now they are earning a steady income and easily paying off the loan while providing for their families’ needs. These women too have cited that they are now feeding their own families a more diverse diet, and taking better precautions in food safety and hygiene.

Students learning cooking techniques in an industrial kitchen. Cooking well, with fresh and nutritious ingredients is something that more and more youth are not learning. What will they cook for themselves when they grow up?

Overall, this program, if widespread enough, can be a win-win-win for improving rural livelihoods and food security. As long as schools keep providing lunches for their students and these women carefully manage their businesses, the program will be a great success. What is needed is local farms that sell to these women, and then have the school and the women return the uneaten or scrap food back to the farm to be composted for a natural fertilizer….too much? There’s no reason that can’t happen! It also makes for great educational opportunities, to visit the farm where their school meals come from, and see how nutrient cycling works!

Information I could not find: whether or not the government is funding the school’s purchase of these women’s meals (this would impact the long-term sustainability of their business). Also, I could not find where these women purchased the food, or if any of it was home-grown. I would imagine they are buying in bulk from local markets, therefore they are likely using primarily local products (local corn, beans, sugar). But this is not certain.

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