By Genalyn Kabiling
Healthy food packs instead of hot meals may be distributed to undernourished school children under the government’s feeding programs given the temporary suspension of face-to-face classes, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced on Monday.
Nograles bared plans to modify the implementation of the national feeding programs to continue to address undernutrition among children in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak compels us to revisit government food security and nutrition programs as we now have to factor in the challenges brought about by this pandemic,” he said during a recent media forum.
“We have to look at our programs from top to bottom––from planning to implementation––because we will have to do things differently under current conditions,” said Nograles, also chairman of the government’s Task Force on Zero Hunger.
On the supplemental feeding program (SFP) for day care children, Nograles said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) may distribute the food packs to school kids in coordination with the barangay day care centers.
“For example, we may need to re-operationalize the Supplemental Feeding Program in Day Care Centers through the provision of nutritious food packs. Instead of hot meals, day care students can be provided with nutritious food packs which may include vegetable noodles (malunggay/ squash/ carrots), rice, and nutribuns, among others,” he said.
The government must also “get creative” in safely implementing the school-based feeding program of the Department of Education, according to Nograles.
“With these students now forced to stay home, we will have to get creative and adopt mechanisms so that we can continue to reach out to the program’s beneficiaries. We may need to bring the program to the communities of these students to make it work,” he said.
Nograles proposed that the government must prioritize the food rations for poor households with children. He intends to work with concerned agencies involved in the government’s Zero Hunger Task Force to “retool” initiatives such as the feeding programs.
“In the distribution of rations, LGUs can prioritize these households through barangay registries or with data from public schools and ensure that these families have adequate and healthy meals for their children,” he said.
The SFP program initiated by the DSWD involves the provision of one fortified meal to undernourished children with ages three to five in day center centers for not less than 120 days in a year.
The DepEd’s school-based feeding program targets undernourished public school children from kindergarten to grade six. It includes the provision of at least one fortified meal to all undernourished public elementary school children for 120 days.
The feeding projects are mandated under Republic Act No. 11037 to combat hunger and undernutrition among elementary school children.
At present, Nograles said almost two million malnourished Filipino children benefit from government-sponsored school feeding programs.
The latest statement from Nograles on the possible adjustment in the national feeding program came ahead of the observance of the National Nutrition Month in July.
He noted that this year’s nutrition month seeks to increase awareness about child stunting and the importance of proper nutrition.
According to Nograles, stunting can result in poor educational performance, lost productivity, increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases, and death. The cost of childhood stunting is estimated at 1.5 to 3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The theme of this year’s nutrition month is “Batang Pinoy SANA TALL… Iwas stunting, SAMA ALL.”