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Prioritise nutrition in boarding schools

MARGARET samulela.

Analysis: MARGARET CHISANGA
PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu ignited a topic close to my heart when he unexpectedly inspected the Chama Boarding Secondary School kitchen and reprimanded management upon realising that they use firewood to prepare meals for the pupils.

According to the story headlined ‘Primitive cooking angers President Lungu’, published in the Zambia Daily Mail on January 23, 2018, the President unexpectedly requested to view the kitchen, only to discover that meals are prepared using firewood. He rightfully urged the school management to desist from using firewood and start using electric pots which are already in stock.
President Lungu premised his directive on the need to protect the environment from degradation, as such use of firewood calls for the indiscriminate cutting down of trees. I have decided to add to that the need for boarding school managements across the country to ensure nutritional value of the food they prepare for pupils is taken into consideration. Though I am not a nutritional expert, my interest in health and development reporting has highlighted the importance of a healthy population to undertake the development process of any nation.
Most parents packing off their children into boarding schools do so with the hope that being in a restricted environment, the youths will have ample time to concentrate on their education and not be swayed by a myriad of activities happening in society. This is good and is usually achieved.
However, one aspect they should note is that the schools where they leave their adolescent children also provide a diet that caters for the high level of physical and hormonal changes taking place in the pupils’ teenage years.
Adolescence is a time for both physical and mental development, thus a healthy diet is essential for teenagers because of their heightened nutritional needs, and also because the foods they eat as teenagers can impact their health when they reach adulthood.
It would do no parent any good to have a brilliant student with poor health simply because of the bad diet they endured during their teenage years.
The teen years are a time of rapid growth. According to experts, teenagers need extra nutrients to support bone growth, hormonal changes, and organ and tissue development, including the brain. The two main nutrients of concern for teenagers are calcium and iron.
Calcium is important for bone growth. If teens optimise their bone health, they have a decreased risk of teen fractures and of developing osteoporosis during adulthood. Females are particularly at risk if they do not meet their calcium requirements.
Teenagers also need to consume more calories because their bodies are growing rapidly. According to HealthyChildren.org, adolescents need more calories each day than at any other point in their lives. These caloric needs are even higher for teens who play sports or are otherwise very physically active.
However, what occurs when there is occasion for poor diet in school is that the pupils try to compensate by consuming food brought along from home which in many instances includes junk food.
Junk food is defined by nutritionists as any food that has no or very little nutritional value and is considered as unhealthy and harmful.
Worse off is that some parents try to compensate for the teenagers’ school diet by allowing them to choose the food they would like to eat while on holiday. This diet, as most parents have already noticed, is usually junk or packaged food which has potential to cause irreparable damage to the body.
According to experts, some of the effects of the poor diet comprising a lot of junk food include obesity, which may cause medical issues like diabetes, cancer or joint pain in later life. Other consequences of junk food for teens include high blood pressure, inadequate growth and development, dental issues, poor concentration levels and constant fatigue. These are enough reasons to peep into that school kitchen preparing your teen’s food and ensure it is full of nutrients.
These nutrients come with eating the right foods in the right proportions. Approximately 50 to 60 percent of the calories should come from carbohydrates, HealthyChildren.org notes, with the majority of these coming from complex carbohydrates. Vitamins and minerals are also critical for teenagers because they are needed to help the body make new tissues and function properly.
Teenagers should eat a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, to make sure that they get all of the vitamins they need. Milk is a healthier choice than sodas for most teenagers because it provides calcium and vitamins A and D and helps with making new bone during growth spurts, according to KidsHealth.org.
Healthy eating also promotes good food habits to last a lifetime. So once they learn such habits in school, it is expected that the teens will carry on the habit and pass it on to future generations as they grow and have their own children. In the process, we will have a nation filled with healthy right eating individuals eager to take on the development process of the nation. I thus urge all boarding school authorities to provide healthy diets in order to grow a wealthy nation.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail sub-editor.

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