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News 26 Sep 14

Macedonia Gets Tough on Kindergarten Menus

The government is taking the gloves off in its drive to get Macedonian kindergartens to strike margarine, white sugar and chocolate off the menu.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Social Welfare Ministry said it won't tolerate kindergartens who ignore their newly released rulebook on healthy diet | Photo by: Kindergarten Rade Jovcevski - Korcagin

"We ate spaghetti, a cake and apples today... I liked the cake the most... but the apples were bitter," six-year-old Ivan complains as his mother, Miljana, takes him home from the Rade Jovcevski-Korcagin kindergarten in Skopje.

Ivan's kindergarten, Miljana says, already took parents' advice and boosted fresh fruit and vegetable on the menu. "You cannot teach your child to eat healthily if the kindergarten does the opposite," she maintains.

On Thursday, Macedonia's Social Welfare Ministry said it will no longer allow kindergartens to ignore their new rulebook on healthy diets and keep feeding children greasy meals and canned food.

Kindergartens meanwhile are pleading for more time to adjust to the sudden change in what they can serve.

One key idea in the rulebook that stepped into force this week is the introduction of wholemeal bread and pastry. White sugar will have to give way to healthier brown sugar, and margarine, meat pate and chocolate cream - usual items on the menu - will have to give way to seasonal fruits and vegetables.

"Instead of processed and food packed full of preservatives or sweeteners, the rulebook orders kindergartens to prepare all the food, including spreads, from raw, using fresh ingredients," Gjorgi Simovski, a nutritional expert from the Ministry, told BIRN.

The head of Korcagin kindergarten, Zlata Nikolic, says the rulebook is a welcome addition that they will be happy to abide by.

"Already, on our own, we have excluded less healthy products like white flour, although we still use white sugar and the odd chocolate dessert. We also have a mini garden with fresh parsley and mint. This autumn, we will have a fresh tender and we are mulling ways to procure each of the food items envisaged in the rulebook," Nikolic says.

But, transferring children from sweets to broccoli is not going to happen without hiccups.
Some kindergarten principals say the rulebook appeared too abruptly. They worry about the price of buying "healthy" food and about breaking contracts with existing suppliers.

  Kindergartens will prepare all the food, including spreads, from raw and fresh ingredients directly in their kitchens | Photo by: Kindergarten Rade Jovcevski - Korcagin

"We have a contract with a food supply firm that we signed in June. We cannot break a contract that is valid until the end of the year because that would pose a big financial strain on us," says Radie Ljoku, head of the Fidani kindergarten in the Skopje municipality of Cair.

"We barely manage to buy our existing food with the money that we have, and I fear that this 'healthy' food will be even pricier," she added.

Some 26,000 children attend Macedonian kindergartens. Formally, they come under municipal jurisdiction but the central government, through the Social Welfare Ministry, provides money for certain ongoing expenses, such as heating and electricity bills.

The new rulebook coincides with a recently released government advertising campaign designed to wean Macedonians off much-loved kebabs and burgers and direct them towards healthier eating choices.

In August, the government said the campaign would "raise awareness about the importance of consuming healthy food and of avoiding food of inadequate quality”.

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