The Chhattisgarh government on Tuesday announced its decision to introduce eggs into the menu of mid-day meals served across the state. Officials said that eggs can be substituted with milk or other protein-rich products if the children or their parents do not approve of consuming eggs.

A government circular said officials got samples of mid-day meals from 66 schools in 19 districts to test the nutritional properties. Of these 66 schools, eight were from five cities and served by centralised kitchens.

Of the remaining 58 schools, the number of calories present in a meal in 47 institutions was over 85% but less than 100% of the prescribed amount. In nine schools, the number of calories was below 85% of the prescribed figure. A fully nutritious meal was provided to students only in two schools.

Of the 58 schools, only mid-day meals of three schools contained the prescribed grams of protein, the circular added. In 18 schools, the protein content was between 85% and 100% of the notified amount, and in others, it was below 85%.

Similarly, samples of the mid-day meals obtained from centralised kitchens in five cities showed that in seven out of eight schools, the protein content was lower than the prescribed amount.

Subsequently, the Chhattisgarh government has decided that eggs, milk or an item with comparable nutritious value must be served in mid-day meals on at least two days a week. Items like soya milk, animal milk, protein crunch, fortified soya biscuits and soya papad can be served, the notification added. The circular added that local, seasonal fruits and whole grain rice must also be served in the mid-day meals.

Right to food activists have often pointed out the importance of providing eggs in the school meal. The dietary guidelines of the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad highlights that animal proteins have higher quality than plant proteins. People can get their protein requirement from a vegetarian diet but such a diet will have to contain a combination of cereals, millets and pulses to provide all the amino acids that build better-quality proteins. Eggs are the best sources of protein having a very high biological value – the metric used to measure protein content – and therefore the best way to fight severe undernutrition among children across India.

There have been controversies over serving eggs in mid-day meals in many states. In 2015, the former Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government in Madhya Pradesh had refused to serve eggs in these meals.

In November, the Odisha government said that Akshaya Patra Foundation, an initiative of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, had agreed to include two eggs per week per student in their mid-day meal in all schools. Akshaya Patra’s menu had previously been fully vegetarian. School managements will ensure that eggs are procured and boiled and Akshaya Patra will bear the cost.

However, in Karnataka, Akshaya Patra refused to include onion and garlic in its menu for mid day meals, disregarding a government order.