Nutribun: Remember me?

Fritzie Rodriguez
Do you remember eating Nutribun as a child? The Manila government is reviving the school feeding program, with a few changes in place
NUTRIBUN. Do you remember eating Nutribun as a child? The local government of Manila is reviving the school feeding program, with a few changes in place.

MANILA, Philippines – Nutribun. Does it ring a bell? 

Kids today may have never heard of it. Filipinos who grew up in the 1970s, however, may very well remember their childhood’s “daily bread.”

Masarap, mura (Delicious, cheap),” Temi said as she scrambled for memories of her girlhood in Samar. The grandmother wished her grandchildren can have the same experience, instead of today’s “overly salty or sweet” snacks.

Her friend, Sandra, smiled as she pictured herself as a young gymnast. “It’s big and filling – we eat it before training.” She can still taste it in her mouth, she said. “Flour tasted different then.”

Meanwhile, Amelia, the youngest of the 3 friends, recalled the milk that went with the bun. She admitted that the “baon (packed meal)” she prepares for her 8 children are not as healthy. “Madalas, hotdog (Often, it’s hotdog).”

The women shared anecdotes of their youth, which were mostly cheerful, minus the tumultuous parts of the 1970s. “That’s a different story,” Sandra quipped. “Let’s just talk about bread.”

What bun

Nutribun resembled pandesal, only harder and more dense. And it was healthier.

The Nutribun program was implemented in the early 1970s as a supplementary feeding program for public elementary schoolchildren.

The bread was made of “wheat blend flour and non-fat dried milk donated by the United States under the PL 480 Title II Food Aid,” said Didi Vega , chief of the Nutrition Policy and Planning Division of the National Nutrition Council (NNC). It was under the USAID Food for Peace Program.

“Each bun provided about one-third of the recommended dietary allowance for school-age children for energy and protein,” she explained.

Its nutritional value was improved by adding soy flour, which is relatively high in good-quality protein, according to Dr Rodolfo Florentino, president of the Nutrition Foundation of the Philippines and former director of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI). He also helped in formulating tools for the program’s nutritional assessment that time.

Soy is rich in fat and micronutrients like calcium, iron, and B-complex vitamins. “Evaluation studies showed positive impact on the nutrition of children fed with Nutribun for a sufficient period of time,” he added. “I remember the time, however, when bulghur-fortified wheat flour was used, but this introduced organoleptic problems as the bread became even tougher.”

Nutribun was made in local bakeries and distributed among targeted schools and feeding centers. It was given as a snack the whole school year, Florentino recalled.

“At first, it was distributed for free, but was sold eventually at about 50 to 75 cents,” added Dr Mario Capanzana, FNRI director.

The program also integrated nutrition lessons in schools.

Bye bye, bun

The program ended in 1997.

“It was phased out because the US assessed the Philippines to be in less need for food aid compared to other countries like those in Africa,” Vega said.  It was eventually replaced by school-based supplementary feeding programs supported by communities or parents

“In some instances, the Department of Education (DepEd) provided schools seed money for canteens, its proceeds could finance feeding programs.  School gardens also helped supply feedings,” she added, noting that this approach could not sustain “a scaled-up and continuous program.” (READ: PH School feeding programs)

Soon after, the Nutrition Center of the Philippines started “NutriPaK,” a package of rice, ground mung bean, coconut oil, and powdered milk. It used local agricultural products and was distributed among local governments units (LGUs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Since the Nutribun’s demise, FNRI came up with replacement strategies such as “Insumix,” a mixture of powdered rice and dried fish; and the Malnutrition Reduction Program which currently provides children aged 6 months to 3 years complementary foods made of rice and mongo for 120 days. The latter also trains parents in nutrition and meal planning.

Some NGOs and LGUs also came up with their own nutrition programs, mostly focusing on supplementary feeding and education.

Manila revives bun

Hunger incidence among families in the National Capital Region has increased over the years. From 8.1% in 1998, it nearly doubled to 15.3% as of June 2014, the Social Weather Stations reported.

Among all regions, NCR has the 6th highest prevalence of wasted children – those too thin for their height – according to the 2013 National Nutrition Survey.

Child malnutrition, however, is a problem observed across all regions. Little progress has been made in the past decade.

Wasting among Filipino children aged 5-10 years old

2003

2013

7.4%

8.6%

(Source: 2013 NNS)

To address such problems, the Manila government launched its own “Nutribun program” in September 2014, covering 7,500 severely wasted students among 71 public elementary schools surveyed. (READ: Learning on an empty stomach)

Its budget comes from the “special activities fund” of the Mayor’s Office. “Approximately, it’s P12 million this school year,” said Dr Benjamin Yson, head of the Manila Health Department.

The buns are served with milk funded by DepEd Manila’s special education fund. “It’s roughly P25 million. Manila requested DepEd for it,” Yson added. To avoid problems like contamination and diarrhea, Manila serves fresh milk rather than powdered milk.

Each bun weighs 80 grams and has 400 calories; fortified with iron and Vitamin A, and uses iodized salt. However, unlike the original program, it uses regular flour. “Liberty Bakery – our supplier which won the bidding – delivers directly to schools. Buns come in individual biodegradable plastic wrappers,” Yson said.

Student beneficiaries receive the bun and milk for free once a day for 120 days.

In the past, some children complained of the Nutribun’s “beany flavor” and tough texture, Florentino noted. To address this, Manila’s Nutribun is made softer and comes in 3 flavors: chocolate, raisin, and buttermilk.

Len Cariaga of DepEd’s Nutrition Division said they appreciate LGUs conducting their own nutrition programs. Although DepEd conducts its own school feeding program, Cariaga admitted that its budget is not enough to cover everyone.

“The nutritional content of Manila’s Nutribun is okay, especially because it’s fortified with micronutrients,” Cariaga said. Vega added that the use of artificial flavoring to make the Nutribun more palatable will not be a problem as long it is kept in allowable levels.

Who gets to eat

“The main problem is still poverty. Many can’t afford their basic nutritional needs,” Yson argued. “Hopefully the program can help address those needs.”

The children’s nutritional status are measured before and after the feeding period. If the program succeeds, Manila plans to sustain it, with the possibility of including “wasted” children and preschoolers.

The program is managed by Manila’s newly organized “Hunger Mitigation Committee” led by the Mayor’s Office and the City Health Department, in partnership with the teachers themselves. Before its implementation, the LGU also consulted concerned national government agencies.

“I think it’s worth trying for other LGUs to have similar feeding programs,” Yson said. “Kids should start eating right early. We should also improve nutrition education especially among the marginalized sector.”

As for other LGUs planning their own nutrition programs, the NNC advised them to also cover groups that are “more nutritionally vulnerable” such as pregnant women and children aged 6-23 months, especially those living in poverty.

But what happens to children who do not go to school?

In Metro Manila alone, there were over 3,000 street children as of 2010, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The return of the Nutribun in Manila is welcomed by many. The next step, advocates say, would be to figure out ways of reaching out to children who have been left out – even by surveys and statistics – for so long.

While some children have the luxury of being picky with meals, others see food itself as a luxury. Rappler.com

For more information on the Manila government’s Nutribun program, you may call the Manila Health Department at 527-5174.

How else can we help fight hunger? Report what your LGU is doing, recommend NGOs, or suggest creative solutions. E-mail us at move.ph@rappler.com. Be part of the #HungerProject.

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