Even after the ban on serving junk food in Punjab schools, and repeated orders of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), burgers, pasta, hotdogs, samosas, noodles, and aerated drinks on school canteens’ menu continue to lure students in government and private schools of the city.
Schools have their canteen committees that decide the menu weekly, but no monitoring from the UT education department is making the situation worse.
Many private schools offer a wide variety of junk food, but the condition is even worse in government schools, where samosas and hotdogs are fried under a tin shade in completely unhygienic conditions.
“From noodles to pasta, burgers to hotdogs, and different varieties of chips to cold drinks — we get everything at the school canteen. Banning junk food makes no sense, but the least the schools can do is to maintain the hygiene,” said Abhishek Sharma, student of Class 9 at Government Model Senior Secondary School, Sector 16.
Mukesh Gupta, whose daughter studies at a city school, Sector 49, said, “The authorities should ban the junk food. Because of peer pressure, even Class 4 or 5 kids asks for Rs 20-25 every day to eat the unhealthy food. We are spoiling our children, and schools play a major role in damaging their health by allowing unhealthy food in their canteens.”
“We pamper our kids at home by providing all kinds of junk food. It’s obvious they will crave for it in schools. The responsibility lies on both the sides. Schools should ban selling junk food, and parents should not encourage kids to have junk food at home,” said another parent Manmeet Kaur.
Anujit Kaur, principal, Government Model Senior Secondary School, Sector 16, said, “Our canteen committee keeps a check on the canteen menu. But owing to continues demand from students, we, sometimes, need to tell the canteen staff to include noodles, pasta, pao-bhaji, though we do not keep aerated drinks.”
A school canteen contractor told HT that around 75 hotdogs and burgers, and the same quantity of samosas, are sold every day. “Around 75% food items finish by the lunch time only,” he added.
Arvind Rana, president, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Teachers’ Association said, “Former director public instructions (schools) SK Sethia in 2008 ordered to ban the junk food in school canteens, but it was never implemented.”
Chandigarh Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CCPCR) chairperson Prof Devi Sirohi told HT she will issue an advisory to all private and government schools. “The schools should consult a dietitian at the beginning of the session to prepare the year’s menu.”
Director school education (DSE) Rubinderjit Singh Brar said, “This is an area of concern for private schools. In government schools, we provide delicious and nutritious food to the students for free. The onus is more on parents than teachers, as kids are provided many types of junks foods at home.”
The CBSE issued a circular for all affiliated schools in January to curb the availability of junk food in school canteens, and replace them with healthy alternatives. The circular suggested banning the consumption of foods high in fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS) that comprise chips, fried foods, carbonated beverages, ready-to-eat noodles, pizzas, burgers, potato fries, chocolates, candies, samosas, bread pakora and patties.
No canteens at missionary schools
The Missionary schools in the city — St John’s School, Sector 26, Sacred Heart School, Sector 26, St Annes’s School, Sector 32, and Carmel Convent School, Sector 9 — do not have canteens on their premises.
“Our teachers do not even allow us to bring junk food for school. It’s on rare occasions that we can bring chips or noodles,” said Malkeet Kaur, Class 8 student of St Anne’s School.