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Education Health

Making Healthy Food Affordable for the Poor

What does your food intake in a day look like? Does it include a healthy mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and other important nutrients? We seldom think about these aspects of what’s on our plate on a day-to-day basis.

For a fitness enthusiast or a person with needs of special dietary care because of certain underlying issues, it might be different. Ask someone who is lactose intolerant or suffers from an auto-immune disease that makes protein digestion a challenge, and they will tell you how minutely they have to monitor what they are eating. Then

Over the years, it has been observed that rich nations and people within India who come from an affluent section are making healthier food choices because of the increasing awareness of the link between diet and chronic illnesses. This trend has been on a rapid rise, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic as it alerted everyone to the need to maintain a healthy body and mind. But are we in a position where we can say, “There is healthy food affordable for the poor populations of India.”?

The Nutrition Gap in India

In May 2024, the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) also released a report which stated that 56 per cent of diseases in India were linked to diet. The report also provided a detailed recommendation for the ideal daily nutritional intake for different age groups and populations living in rural and urban areas.

However, this does not mean that the debate around nutritional intake among Indians is a recent one. The problem of poor nutrition, especially among disadvantaged populations has been a major challenge that India has been facing for decades. Research in the past has shown worrying signs of the impact of this nutrition deficiency among a large percentage of children under five years old suffering from stunting or wasting.

Research has also found a positive correlation between poverty and child malnutrition in the country, clearly underlining the need for critical intervention in this area. A UN report in 2023 also made a concerning revelation that 74 per cent of Indians are not able to afford a healthy diet for themselves. It also estimated that over 16 per cent of the Indian population during the period 2020-2022 was undernourished.

Initiatives for Providing Nutritious Food to Poor

However, the Indian government questioned the research approach and methodology and stated that the report is biased in its approach. Nevertheless, government policies for decades have tried to tackle this issue, which is also a testimony to the fact that ensuring a nutritional diet for all of India’s population is a concern for government officials and other relevant stakeholders.

Initiatives like the mid-day meal scheme, Anganwadi centres, Poshan Abhiyan, etc., have all been targeted towards solving this problem. Apart from this, several state governments in India provide cooked nutritional food to poor populations at a subsidised rate to ensure that they have access to a proper diet. Shree Annapurna Rasoi Yojana in Rajasthan which was previously known as Indira Rasoi Yojana is a prime example of this.

There are similar schemes in other states like Aahaar in Odisha, Amma Canteen in Tamil Nadu, and Shiv Bhojan Thali in Maharashtra, among others. All these schemes have a common goal to achieve. Starting in January 2024, the Union Government of India also announced an ambitious project of providing free foodgrains to more than 81 crore people of the country for a period of five years under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana.

Need for Making Healthy Food Affordable for the poor sections of the society

As mentioned at the beginning, there has been a growing trend of affluent sections in society opting for healthier food options like organic produce, etc. However, the poorer population does not have access to these opportunities. They are bound by financial constraints and can only access the food that they can afford. While the government initiatives fill a certain gap, merely receiving free food grains is not enough to get a truly nutritious diet.

What is needed is a good mix of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and food grains to ensure a healthier population. This is the reason why making healthy food affordable for the poor communities should be a priority for a country like India. It is also crucial to reduce India’s diabetes burden as the country is today on the path to becoming the diabetes capital of the world.

But, how can this be achieved?

A report published in 2022 by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down To Earth magazine stated that 1.7 million people in India die every year because of diseases caused by dietary risks like obesity. There are ways to deal with this problem and the most important step is to increase awareness among people about what they are eating and how it affects their bodies.

Many food options available locally like millet, eggs, local vegetables, dairy, etc., can provide a healthy diet to a large population in the country. However, a lack of awareness around this can be challenging as people move towards consuming unhealthy foods lured by the aspiration created by the market and advertising.

Apart from this, deeper penetration of schemes like mid-day meals to provide healthy and nutritious food to all the children in an efficient manner, and regular monitoring is needed to ensure that the results achieved are satisfactory. Hyperlocal initiatives where women are engaged regarding these issues can also be helpful. Both the government and non-government organisations can play a crucial role in this by coming together and actively working towards change. If a young country like India wants to realise its true potential, it must work towards the basic need of providing its population with healthy affordable food for the poor families especially.

Smile’s Efforts

In its Mission Education programme, Smile Foundation integrates the crucial aspect of healthy eating to promote holistic child development. Through interactive workshops, engaging activities, and informative sessions, children are empowered with the knowledge and skills to make healthier food choices.

By instilling the importance of balanced nutrition and educating them about the benefits of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, Smile Foundation not only nurtures their physical well-being but also fosters habits that will positively impact their long-term health. Through this initiative, children not only learn about healthy eating but also become ambassadors of wellness within their families and communities.

Health Nutrition

Food Security and Learning Outcomes in Children 

A hungry child is an angry child, and an angry child’s attention and interest in learning and getting an education are adversely impacted. Though the Indian Constitution does not provide for a clear and detailed provision stating the right to food for all, the assumption is that the fundamental right to life outlined in Article 21 of the Constitution has more than one meaning. Its interpretation includes not just the right to live with human dignity, but also that said life must have the right to food and other basic necessities.

It’s no secret that there is a link between food and education among children. The fuller the stomach the better one’s progress at school. Food insecurity amongst children can have an adverse effect on their education. This impacts their overall growth and development. It can have harmful consequences for the children and the fabric into which humanity is sewn.  

Child food insecurity, while being a national problem and the responsibility of the governing leaders, is also an educational problem.  Children facing food insecurity often do worse in school. Food insecurity negatively affects their ability to concentrate and achieve academically. Children facing food insecurity often struggle with social and behavioral problems.

Many studies have shown established patterns that link food insecurity with higher rates of a wide range of adolescent mood, behavior and substance abuse issues. Research has also thrown up examples that connect food insecurity starting as early as infancy. This weakens a child’s attachment to the parents in later years. This also negatively affects children’s mental health as they grow and attempt adjustments later in life. 

Delayed or stunted development in young children; emotional angst and feelings of abandonment, fear of chronic illnesses like asthma and anemia; as well as other behavioral problems like hyperactivity, anxiety and aggression in school-going children are observed to be some of the common issues that plague children who are affected by lack of proper meals and nutrition during their growing years.

India’s Initiative

Whilst the government has continuously tried to address the issue of food supplies to marginalised communities, through schemes such as the Targeted Public Distribution System, it was the landmark act of the National Food Security Act, (NFSA) 2013 on July 5, 2013. Its implementation saw a paradigm shift in the approach to food security from welfare to becoming a constitutional rights-based approach.

The Act legally entitled up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidized foodgrains under Targeted Public Distribution System. In this manner, the government aims to provide about two-thirds of the population to receive highly subsidized food grains.  

The Act also puts the power of food distribution into the hands of women of the households. It has a mandate making the oldest woman of the household of age 18 years or above act as the head of the household. It gives her the authority mandate to apply and get a ration card for her family. 

Taking it Further

The main points for any legislation to achieve its target rest on the following factors– 


Adequate availability is the primary cornerstone of any programme or scheme. It’s imperative that staples and basic food grains are manufactured in abundance to ensure proper and equitable distributions. Especially amongst the households that need them the most. Availability of these should also be enough to cater to specific initiatives. A good example is the ‘mid-day meal’ which targets school children and their nutritional needs. 


Easy accessibility is another key factor. The targeted public distribution system which is in place, caters to both urban and rural regions of the country.  While reaching within urban areas is not difficult and poses no problems for distribution, it is the far-flung and remote rural lands deprived of essential food supplies. Even though there is a robust framework to provide marginalised households with subsidised food grains, more often than not, this endeavor fails due to poor distribution systems and accessible channels.


Even though the government offers subsidised staples and food grains to the households that need them most, they must factor in the cost and evaluate if the subsidised costs are affordable to the targeted households. It’s very possible that marginalised households in the urban metros and smaller cities are able to afford the subsidies offered but that may not hold true for similar households in rural areas and villages. 

Useful Takeaways about Food Security and Children’s Learning Outcomes

All these factors can influence a child’s behavior and prevent a positive educational impact. There are laws and schemes in place to provide for children’s food security and ensure that they stay in school. But families still have constraints that make them pull out their kids from a learning environment to a working environment. 

At the grassroots level, the observation is that subsidies, midday meals at schools and other such positive programmes still need a lot of work. There are still children who indulge in child labour in order to provide for their families and themselves. As a country, we collectively need to work harder to put each child in school and place timely nutritious meals on their plates every day without fail.

Smile Foundation and Healthy Diets of Children

Smile Foundation in its education programme, Mission Education also ensures that the children are provided with healthy meals for their holistic development and growth. Children, after all, are the ones who will carry the baton of the nation’s responsibilities tomorrow. Every effort should be made to equip them with great intelligence and healthy bodies.

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