At the break of dawn, the whistle of the pressure cooker resounded through the walls, piercing into the deepest of slumber. A clarion call for impending madness of a day, it would set the chores rolling. “Get up! You are going to be late!” followed by nudges that bring you back to reality. The next hour would be a blur of hurried chaos leading up to the final destination—the school bus!
The flashback of a typical school-day morning from the not-so-distant past.
Morning chores have, however, tapered down by several levels over the years. Although waking up in the morning and getting ready for work remains a mundane activity filled with reluctance for many of us. We are sane through the rush, but one thing continues—a simple oversight caused due to haste, it can have long-lasting negative consequences.
“It is as simple and small as skipping the first meal of the day—breakfast,” points out Palaniappan.
A seemingly inconsequential action when repeated over the years, builds up like a habit that can not only hamper an individual’s immune system and cause weakness, but also cause several diseases due to nutritional deficiency, he adds.
Coimbatore-based Palaniappan, along with four more like-minded individuals, who call themselves nutrition partners, are trying to bridge this gap by taking nutrition to schools.
Entrepreneurs hoping to make a social impact, their venture Habitos has been mending the common oversight across 12 schools in Coimbatore, by setting up nutrition canteens in collaboration with school authorities.
Through this, they provide midday snacks and lunch to hundreds of school children every single day.
Speaking to The Better India, Palaniappan says, “Skipping breakfast has become a common occurrence these days. But, this causes a serious gap in nutrition, especially for children. We conducted a survey and interviewed 60 students in a school, and the results were shocking. It revealed that there is more than 40 per cent shortfall in the total nutritional value of an average school kid today. But, we hope to be the bridge in a few more years.”
Based on their dietary and eating patterns, the survey conducted in Yuvabharati Public School, the first school to collaborate and set up nutrition canteens, revealed that an average child has a 45 per cent shortfall in protein and 65 per cent shortfall in other micronutrients.
“It’s a serious deficiency that needed attention, and with the help of school authorities and our team of nutritionists and dieticians, we have developed an efficient way of changing that,” adds Vivek Lakshmanan, one of the entrepreneurs who started Habitos in 2016.
Saravanan Vellayan, Vivek Chidambaram, and Babu Alagappan are the other three members who have been spearheading the organisation since its inception.
Nutrition that feels, looks and tastes good
“When developing the menu, one big challenge was to keep the children motivated and excited about food. Healthy food is always looked down by them as tasteless. We had to change that narrative. Another challenge was to prevent them from getting bored with the food, so the menu had to be regularly changed and reshuffled,” adds Palaniappan.
As a result, Habitos follows a rotational system. In a month, they serve the same dishes on days 1 and 16, and then for days 2 and 17, and so on.
In this manner, they design meal plans that balance order as well as take care of variety.
From soups, starters, juices, to desserts like cookies, choco-chip muffins and laddus—everything is prepared while maintaining a balance of nutrients, under the guidance of nutritionists. They provide a midday snack in the morning, followed by lunch.
“The gap between breakfast and lunch is too long, and for students who travel long distances to reach school, it is even more strenuous. So the morning midday snack serves as a healthy filler, where they have fresh juices, millet cookies, peanuts, sprouts, milk puddings, vegetable or fruit sandwiches and salads. This short meal that is packed and served in a way that children can finish it in their 10-minute break, takes care of their daily requirement of carbohydrates, minerals, fibre, vitamins and proteins. Once these children are full, it not only boosts up their holistic health, but also helps keep them agile in class,” he explains.
The lunch menu, on the other hand, involves a combination of fruits, vegetables and pulses. It comes in categories of three and five courses. While the daily expense for a three-course meal comes at Rs 35 per person, a five-course meal costs Rs 55 per person.
In the past three years, they have served more than 1.6 lakh meals across 12 schools in Coimbatore and hope to spread to other parts of the state.
To know more, you can visit www.habitos.in or call them on 0422-4960101/9842318000.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)