DepEd calls on parents to help cook school meals

Fritzie Rodriguez

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The DepEd hopes more parents can participate in school feeding programs not out of pressure, but because they truly understand the need for it
COOKS. Parents come together to cook meals for their children enrolled in a public school. Photo by Fritzie Rodriguez/

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Education (DepEd) is calling on parents to actively participate in the government’s School-Based Feeding Program (SBFP).

“There are parents who really just don’t care about their children. We need to change that,” said Len Cariaga, nutritionist-dietitian and officer-in-charge of DepEd’s Nutrition Division.

The SBFP is implemented jointly by Deped and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in partnership with local government units (LGUs) and non-governmental organizations.

Each school plans its own menu, in accordance with standards set by the two lead agencies. “For example, in schools with Muslim students, they consider the food they cannot eat,” Cariaga explained.

All ingredients and utensils are provided by the schools using allocated funds. Food preparation tasks should be divided among teachers and parents; however, some parents tend to be uncooperative.

“Without the parents, the program will die,” Cariaga argued. She stressed that teachers should not be burdened by all the feeding tasks; otherwise, they will be more focused on cooking rather than teaching.

Teachers observed that at the start of the school year, several parents are willing to help, but their participation eventually wanes. “If they’re busy, they can ask relatives to take their place. Instead of just staying at home, they can cook for kids,” Cariaga suggested.

As of now, DepEd does not plan on hiring nutritionists for each school. Instead, it urges parents to be more involved.

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The program becomes useless if children only eat properly when at school. DepEd is plannning on institutionalizing nutrition education and food safety training for parents. “Feeding programs are not enough. To create more impact, children should have a nurturing home environment,” Cariaga said.

Although DepEd has a policy banning school canteens from selling junk food, some canteens still do. What is worse is that some parents give their children unhealthy “baon” (packed meals). Cariaga observed that some kids come to school with a bag of chips and bottles of soda — snacks which could put a child at higher risk of diabetes or kidney problems. (INFOGRAPHIC: What does malnutrition look like?)

“You don’t see the ill effects now, but when they grow up, they’ll be vulnerable to many illnesses. This can be traced to their childhood diet,” Cariaga said. “Health lessons should start early – at home and at school.”

Nutritionists advise parents to plan their children’s baon properly. Parents are asked to budget properly and to prepare balanced and creative meals, since a “monotonous diet” not only lacks nutrition, but also discourages a child from eating.

A billion pesos

More than half a million public school children – from Kindergarten up to Grade 6 – currently benefit from this year’s SBFP. It aims to improve the children’s nutritional status and school attendance.

The program began in July, but other schools began theirs only this September.

The program prioritizes 562,262 “severely wasted” children or those who are too thin for their height. The figures are based on a 2011 nutritional nationwide survey by DepEd.

For SY 2014-2015, the program’s budget is P1.08 billion. Region IV-A received the biggest allocation since it had the most number of severely wasted children, making up one-fifth of all cases.

RegionBudget allocation (In million pesos)
IV-A P209.7
NCR P112.7
V P99.4
VII P88.2
VI P88.1
III P75.2
IV-B P58.8
ARMM P56.6
VIII P56.2
I P51.3
XI P35.2
IX P34.3
X P33.7
XII P29.4
II P23
Caraga P20.8
CAR P6.9

The budget comes from DSWD, which is then transferred to DepEd. The funds are then downloaded to the regional and division offices, until they reach the schools.

On average, schools get P70,000 each; however, those with a higher population of severely wasted children receive more funds. If the budget is enough, the program may also cover “wasted children” to prevent their malnutrition from worsening.

Cariaga admitted that the program, if mishandled, may lead to corruption. “So far, we haven’t seen cases of misused funds. There were some funds not utilized, but they were saved,” she added. DepEd regularly monitors the schools’ finances; their menus are also checked to see whether unnecessary or unhealthy items are purchased.

LGUs conducting their own comprehensive feeding programs, such as Valenzuela City, no longer receive an SBFP budget. “The SBFP budget is really not enough. So we appreciate LGUs making their own efforts,” Cariaga said.

DepEd is currently considering the possibility of expanding the program to public high school students, with female students as a priority.

“Some mothers are unable to go to college, their highest educational attainment is high school. So there’s a need to educate them about health and nutrition during that time,” Cariaga said. “There are also a lot of teenage pregnancies during this period, they need support.”

There was an increase in teenage pregnancies in 2013, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Health. “Malnourished moms would most likely have low birthweight babies. The program, if it pushes through, aims to prevent that from happening,” Cariaga said.

Until then, DepEd hopes to make more parents participate in school feeding programs not out of pressure, but because they truly understand the need for it. –

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