Examining the Impact of COVID-19 on In-school Nutrition Programmes

The University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) and the Food Evolution Research Laboratory (FERL) hosted a webinar on The Effects of COVID-19 on In-school Nutrition. The webinar, held on May 24, 2023, presented the research findings related to the impact of the pandemic on in-school nutrition programs.

Importance and Scope of the Study

‘’The study findings indicated that the majority of NSNP lunch meals did not meet the 25-30% benchmark for children’s recommended dietary allowances (RDAs). Focus group discussions with children revealed their dissatisfaction with the quality and quantity.’’

The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) is used as a mechanism to alleviate the hunger that many children in South Africa face. The NSNP feeds over 9 million children each school day and the programme is intended to meet 30-40% of a child’s recommended dietary allowance per day.  These in-school nutrition programmes were significantly disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study, conducted in partnership with the Tiger Brands Foundation, had two primary objectives. Firstly, it aimed to understand the experiences of children regarding the shifts in in-school nutrition programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, it aimed to assess the nutritional value of the in-school nutrition programs in four South African provinces: Gauteng, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the North-West.

  • Read the research report here

Impact of the Pandemic on Children’s Well-being

Findings show that the pandemic negatively impacted children’s well-being across multiple domains. Children articulated that many depended on the in-school nutrition programme, and it was noted that not having access to it for a period was detrimental to some children and their families.

Children were aware that having regular, healthy meals contributed to their ability to concentrate in class, their learning and also to their physical and emotional well-being. They reported a noticeable difference in the quality and quantity of the food they received after the lockdown, with reduced variety, less fruit and proteins, inadequate portion sizes, and diminished flavour and preparation quality.

Insights from UJ’s Dr. Sadiyya Haffejee

Dr Sadiyya Haffejee, CSDA Senior Researcher spoke about the importance of hearing from the children about the programme and how it affected them.

“Across all the schools it was clear that children appreciated the food they received through the programme. We used a ‘Draw and Talk’ method to get the children to start speaking about some of their experiences, what their views were and how they understood the importance of receiving a meal at school,” she said of the findings which also spoke to the positive effects of school programmes.

The menu evaluation showed that most of the NSNP lunch meals were not providing up to 25-30% of the children’s recommended dietary allowances (RDA) but the Tiger Brands Foundation breakfast augmented this by providing an additional 10-20% of the RDAs.

Recommendations for Enhancing Nutrition Programmes

Dr. Hema Kesa, Director of FERL, reflected on the study’s recommendations for improving the quality and effectiveness of in-school nutrition programmes. These suggestions included increasing the quantities of food provided to meet the 25-30% target per meal, offering further training on portion sizes, food preparation skills, basic nutrition knowledge, hygiene, and safety for the Volunteer Food Handlers (VFHs). Additionally, improvements in the quality, quantity, and distribution/frequency of food items were recommended.

Watch the webinar:

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