Feed A Child, Nourish A Mind: Thinking about South Africa
About a year ago I participated with other food bloggers to raise awareness on hunger issues in America (you can read the article and recipe by clicking here). This time the focus is on hunger in South African schoolchildren. As a dietitian nutritionist, I know that healthy food for breakfast and lunch is an essential requirement for children to succeed in school. On a personal level, it is heartbreaking to see the increasing rates of hunger in our world we live in, in our own countries and abroad. It is even more painful to see children suffering from not enough decent food to eat. For this reason, I felt compelled to ‘donate’ this post and a recipe to help spread the word and provide an avenue to help slow this growing problem.
On a personal note, as a mom of four, I feel privileged to be able to provide hot lunches to our kids. Some children are not as lucky and have to skip meals or eat lower nourished foods just for subsistence. This article is just my small part of the project because I really care about helping hungry children.
School lunch here in France
In France lunch is the main meal of the day for most families. On many school lunch days I have some or all of my children at home to eat. My kids sometimes eat a hot three-course meal at school. It takes effort, planning and money (of course); all of which I feel lucky to have the time and finances to provide my kids with hot nutritious foods at lunch. It something you feel good about as a parent-that you can provide the means for your children to succeed. Good nutrition helps them to learn better. Healthy food provides them with the means to grow and develop. I hope (and I feel confident) that my efforts pay off in the long-run, because when you grow well and stay healthy and lean as a child, there are more chances that you will be like this as an adult.
But not every family is lucky to have these means to provide healthy lunches to their kids. Especially for children in South Africa.
Statistics on South African children and the importance of good nutrition for learning:
- 65% of all South African children live in poverty. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education.
- Nearly 20% of all children in South Africa are orphans, with approximately 1.9 Million of those children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS.
- Lack of food can diminish concentration, erode willpower, and strip away a child’s potential. Compound that with prevalence of HIV/AIDS or the trauma of losing parents and loved ones, without food, a child’s attendance and performance at school is severely jeopardized. (reference: The Giving Table).
So I was thinking: What would be a healthy (and tasty) food basic I could make my kids on a strict budget?
Polenta. Do you know it?
Polenta’s nutritional benefits and versatility
Polenta is comfort food at its best. Warm, creamy, soft, flavorful. It takes time to prepare polenta (45 minutes), but you can cook polenta while you are preparing the rest of the meal.
Polenta is a grain dish made from yellow or white ground cornmeal. It is gluten free, rich in dietary fiber and is almost fat-free. Polenta is a good source of carbohydrate or energy for the human body. When topped, roasted, or added to a healthy side, polenta becomes a balanced meal, rich in vitamins and minerals.
(note: for those avoiding GMOs in foods, cornmeal bought in America is almost all GMO. I would recommend if you want a GMO free cornmeal to buy organic. In Europe, it depends where you buy your cornmeal from, you must read the label which may explain if it is GMO free or not). Any doubts, buy an organic brand).
My recipe calls for laying the polenta out and cutting it into squares. It is then topped with my homemade meat and tomato sauce. But you can be creative with other toppings or ways to finish off your polenta.
Some other ideas:
- add cheese to the polenta while it is cooking on the stove
- roast the cooked polenta in the oven topped with cheese or vegetables
- saute the cooked polenta in a pan and top with different healthy toppings
- add cooked polenta as cubes in your soup, such as in Minestrone soup
Click on these links for more inspiration:
Homemade Soft Polenta Recipe
Although there are several fast cooking polenta that you can buy, it is easy to make your own from scratch and it tastes better. A budget tip: if you buy just plain cornmeal, it still makes polenta and is cheaper than buying a box of cornmeal labeled “polenta.”
Homemade Soft Polenta
|Prep time||5 minutes|
|Cook time||45 minutes|
|Total time||50 minutes|
|Meal type||Lunch, Main Dish|
- 2 cups yellow or white cornmeal
- 10 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
This polenta can be topped with roasted vegetables, cheese, or a tomato sauce such as in the picture. It is up to you!
|Heat water in a large cooking pot.|
|When water is boiling, add the salt.|
|Sprinkle the polenta into the boiling water like rain in small batches, stirring the polenta after each batch. **Turn down the heat under the polenta pan to low**|
|With a wooden spoon, stir the polenta very often (about every 5 minutes) for about 30-40 minutes.|
|Remove pan from the heat when polenta becomes thick and doesn't stick to the sides. Let it cool for a few minutes.|
|Spoon out polenta onto a wooden board, flatten the top out and cut it into individual squares.|
|Bring polenta to the table on the wooden board to top with your favorite toppings at the table. Or serve each square into each bowl and then top. Serve while warm. (Note you can also spoon the polenta into a large serving dish and just give each diner a nice scoop of polenta. It looks nicer when it is served in squares.)|