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A new website makes it easy to prepare nutritious school lunches

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Malnutrition among Thai kids is set to decline as schools nationwide adopt the "Thai School Lunch" online programme initiated to help prepare quality meals for students. 

The programme was made by the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) with the Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University (INMU), and developed from the original INMU-School Lunch software that the university created in 2005. The original version was developed to counter nutritional shortages in rural areas and used as a tool for schools in preparing lunches. Designed to be user-friendly, the programme features a scoring system showing the levels of energy, protein, vitamins, calcium and fibre contained in different foods.

INMU-School Lunch was successfully implemented in a pilot project at 32 children's centres in 2009 and has been used in the schools network of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation's nutrition scheme. However, because it was initially CD-ROM software, and therefore installed on individual computers, the database could be not extended, and it was hard to monitor the use of it or upgrade the programme. Nectec saw this shortcoming and developed it into an online format so users can log in from both computers and mobile devices at www.sizethailand.org/lunch. The food recommendation feature enables school staff to select meals from a variety of choices. The quality of each meal is shown by the numbers of corresponding stars.

Schools can pick up the ingredients for each meal after viewing the list of raw materials and costs as calculated by the system, based on the number of students. This feature allows schools to manage their budgets. It also suggests matching dishes to complement chosen meals.

There are three sources of dishes: INMU provides 300, there are some shared among schools, and there are those from Nectec's Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to help devise menus guided by nutritional content. For example, when the choice is kaeng jeud (clear soup), the programme will select another kind of dish to go with the soup, offering consumers a balanced diet. The AI programme functions as a nutritionist.

The Thai School Lunch programme initially served some 27,000 schools nationwide under the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) and it will be extended to schools under the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Municipalities.

As well as schools, parents and members of the public who are interested in healthy food for children can view recommended meals on the website.

Since Thai School Lunch was introduced online, about 6,000 schools across the country access the website daily to manage their menus.

NUTRITIONAL CONDITION OF THAI KIDS

The Department of Mental Health conducted a survey of schools nationwide under Obec at the end of 2010. The survey found the average IQ of Thai students was 98.56, a level considered moderate to low, and that more than 400,000 Thai children were malnourished.

While the government has provided financial support for school lunches, most schools in Thailand don't have a standard nutrition formula, and there is a lack of meal planning, and of nutritionists to set appropriate meals for children of different ages. An assessment of the school lunch scheme nationwide in 1995 found that the quality of lunches did not meet standards, and although the scheme has expanded its scope of service every year, the problem has not been rectified.

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