The problem of holiday hunger among children has garnered substantial attention in 2020 given the impact of Covid-19 on financially weak families. It is estimated that 3 million children face food poverty in the UK. In London alone, around 700,000 children face hunger during summer holidays due to lack of free school meals, according to the Mayor’s report of 2018. Childhood hunger leads to profound adverse outcomes in terms of long-term physical, educational and financial achievements.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation UK (TAPF) believes in the integral connection between nourishing food and overall wellbeing of children and families and works with the aim of ensuring that ‘no child should go hungry’. Akshaya Patra has been working in India for over 20 years and currently feeds nearly 2 million children each day.
Wishing to serve children in the UK, TAPF flagged off its ‘Nourish to Flourish’ school holiday feeding program in London in 2019. Since then, we have consistently scaled up the program over each school holiday. This year, we served around 35,000 meals across Tower Hamlets, Hertfordshire, and Harrow Councils to children during summer holidays over a 5 week period.
Meet the beneficiaries
Our meals were served in various locations to children participating in holiday activities in community centres, parks, theatres, and schools. We served ~1200 meals each day to 5-16-year-old children belonging to various communities, including a large BAME population.
What did we serve?
Food is a source of joy and nutrition and thus, we wanted young children to consume our food readily and happily. We designed a varied menu keeping in mind the core principle that food should be hot, nutritious, and familiar to the child’s palate. We also served a portion of fruit every day to encourage a habit of choosing fresh and wholesome eating options.
The menu varied daily and was designed to cater to an ethnically diverse group of children. It included dishes such as Vegetable Fajita rolls, Stir Fry noodles, Cottage Cheese Curry and rice, Soy mince spaghetti bolognese, Macaroni and cheese, and Vegetable tagine curry with couscous.
How we served the meals?
To ensure that food was served fresh and hot, an 8-member team would begin preparing meals from scratch at 3 AM on each day. Individual takeaway meal-boxes were adopted to ensure safety and hygiene amid the pandemic, and these were packed into insulated boxes to maintain warmth. Given that holiday clubs typically serve lunch between 12.30 and 1.30, we planned our logistics to ensure that all meals were delivered by noon.
What are people saying?
‘Hot food makes me feel like I have a full stomach, rather than having sandwiches because it makes me feel I have not eaten enough’- Laura, Year 7
‘It seems like instead of something easy, you take time to make it’, ‘Eating a different fruit every day is good’ – George, Year 7
‘All boroughs would benefit from this offer of healthy eating, hot meals and vegetarian food’- Androulla, Head of Creative Learning, Half Moon Theatre, London
Holidays are a tough time for financially weak families in the UK. School children are not provided with free school meals during holidays, and this puts a huge strain on families to provide these meals. For instance, around 30% of Primary school children and 37.4% of Secondary school children in the Tower Hamlets Council in London depend on free school meals1. The alternatives are cheap, processed foods which lead to malnutrition and obesity.
TAPF is seeking to expand its work in the UK. We are in the final stages of setting up a state-of-the-art kitchen which will enable us to significantly scale up the production of meals. Going forward, we will be carrying out feeding programs in the October and winter term breaks in 2020 and we are open to collaborations and donations to serve more children.
We also seek partnerships with holiday clubs, local governments and other bodies looking to serve meals during school holidays.