Like it or not, school canteens play a key role in the daily lives of students. Unlike earlier times, when they were looked at as places for an occasional treat, the school canteens of today are considered one of the main sources of nutritious meals for children.

The reasons are many. To begin with, more children today have working parents or a single parent who is working, and they have little time to prepare a healthy meal to be packed for lunch before they dash out of their homes each morning for work.

Also, when children leave for school early in the morning, they tend to have a light breakfast or sometimes skip it altogether. As a result, lunch is their day’s main meal, which is increasingly being catered to by school canteens.

“Convenient canteens, inconvenient truths – that sums up the dilemma we face,” said Sarah, a single working mother of Angel, 10, who has her lunch at the canteen every day.

“I leave for work along with my daughter at 6.15am. Where’s the time to cook?”

Moreover, with municipality rules ensuring canteen food is hygienic and healthy, many parents find it a better option for their children than a hurriedly prepared lunchbox. Rushed and stressed, they tend to fill lunchboxes with processed, packaged foods that are convenient to buy, pack – and consume but offer little by way of nutrition.

Ayesha Banerjee, a homemaker mum of three boys ages 11, nine and six, said: “I prefer to pack my kids’ lunch. Not that the canteen food isn’t good. But it also sells stuff like chocolates, sugar-loaded juices and carb-heavy meals. And young children may not be wise enough or inclined to choose the foods they need.”

Some students also find it “cool” to eat canteen food. This is especially true in the case of teenagers and secondary school children, who opt to not carry a lunch box and use their pocket money to buy food from the canteen.