On Tuesday the Knesset Health Committee approved new Health Ministry regulations that mandate that starting in the coming school year children in tzaharonim — after-school daycare programs — will be served high-quality food that meets their nutritional and health needs.
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For lunch, children aged 3-5 will get a portion rich in protein (chicken breast, baked schnitzel and so on), 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup (depending on age) of whole grains and legumes (rice, couscous, lentils, etc.), half a cup of vegetables and half a fruit.
A vegetarian meal will also be available. Children aged 6-10 will get similar food but in greater quantities.
On the list of forbidden foods: sweetened drinks, baked goods rich in fat and trans fat, pizza, french fries, snacks, pickled vegetables, ketchup and mayonnaise.
Also forbidden are cakes and cookies, food rich in salt, prepared sauces, and fried foods. Children with allergies will receive appropriate meals.
But along with support for changing the children’s diet, there are also fears. The after-school programs, although they are an important part of the daily nutrition of hundreds of thousands of Israeli children, are considered the weak link in terms of enforcement and quality control. The meals are outsourced and although suppliers are required to meet minimum conditions, supervision and quality vary from place to place.
According to Health Ministry statistics, about 50 percent of preschool children — about 480,000 children — remain in tzaharonim, with another 300,000-400,000 children in grades 1-3 in similar programs. In other words, almost one million children eat lunch in these programs, 197 days a year over six years. Despite that, the subject of nutrition in these programs does not receive sufficient attention.
According to a children’s nutrition activist, experience teaches that along with standards and regulations there is a need for close supervision in order to ensure that the good intentions are carried out.