Trade-offs in costs, diet quality and regional diversity: An analysis of the nutritional value of school meals in Ghana
There is a paucity of studies in the literature regarding the nutrient content and costs of school meals provided across West Africa. Where studies exist, comparative analysis is constrained by inconsistencies in measurements of portion sizes, meal composition and costs. This study reviews the available literature on the nutritional value of school meals in West Africa and reinterprets the meal contributions to the recommended daily intake for the 9-10 year old age group. The nutritional content of school meals from the Ghana School Feeding Programme is then analyzed through a linear modelling analysis of menus obtained from 34 districts in the country. Meal composition and associated nutritional content were constrained by the Government per child budget allocation of GHS 0.40 (USD $0.26) per meal. Prices were compiled from two of Ghana’s major markets including Tamale in the north and Accra in the south. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze regional and seasonal variations with respect to energy, protein, fat, vitamin A and iron content. Adequacy was set at 30% of daily requirements for the relevant age group. The combined mean nutritional values of meals, using the mean yearly price of ingredients in each market, were as follows: energy – 654 kcal, protein - 13g, fat – 24g, iron – 4mg and vitamin A – 19mcg. The corresponding mean weight of the raw ingredients used to prepare a meal was 208g. The findings suggest that the majority of meals provided adequate amounts of protein and additionally in the North, most meals also had sufficient calories. However, meals were found to contain insufficient amounts of vitamin A and iron. Seasonal variations in the nutritional value of meals were not identified. This analysis shows that the current per child per day budget allocation is likely sufficient to meet some, but not all, of the nutritional adequacy targets for the programme. In the short term, there are opportunities to optimize the nutritional content of school meals in Ghana, including the use of fortification, although in the medium term, fostering healthy eating habits and consuming diets composed of nutrient rich varieties will see more enduring results. Strengthening both the meal planning and the monitoring of the school meal service provision could enhance programme implementation.
Keywords: School meals, health, nutrition, meal quality, nutrient content, costs, evaluation.
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