Education Minister Anthony Garcia said yesterday that many students have a palate for "fried chicken" as opposed to locally grown food which are served daily by the National Schools Dietary Services Ltd (NSDSL).
Garcia admitted that getting students, some of whom are overweight, to switch from eating unhealthy to healthy meals had become a challenge.
The revelation came from Garcia following the presentation of letters of appointment to NSDSL's new chairman Joycelyn Bodden and members, Keisha Roberts, Samantha Felix and Martin Lum Kin at the ministry's headquarters, St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain.
In fielding questions from the media, Garcia spoke about the students' eating habits, reducing the sugar levels in juices and wastage of meals provided by the NSDSL, which they were monitoring.
Approximately 58,226 children received daily breakfast meals, while 88,348 students are provided box lunches.
The meals which cost taxpayers $1.3 million daily are provided to children who are in need at the primary and secondary levels.
Garcia said that he would ensure that juices and meals handed to students would have a reduced sugar content since "excessive sugars" were the major causes of obesity and diabetes.
The Ministry of Health has advised the NSDSL to serve juices that are 100 per cent.
CEO of NSDSL Stacy Barran, said implementing this new measure would cost the taxpayer much more. She was unable to give a projected figure.
"The sugar content.... we are trying to reduce it to 17 grams which is internationally bench marked," Barran said.
The juices the NSDSL serve has 27 grams.
Garcia said his ministry and the Ministry of Health will host a joint press conference today to discuss how they intend to treat with school cafeterias that sell soft drinks in schools.
"As the Ministry of Education we have a large measure of jurisdiction over what is sold at the schools' cafeterias. We will reveal more about that tomorrow," Garcia said.
With regards to some students wasting box lunches, Garcia said the ministry has been having discussions with principals and teachers to ensure that they are part of the programme.
"We are hoping that the level of unwanted food is small. Any wastage of food must be a major issue. This is why we are going on an all out attack that our children develop proper eating habits and have a knowledge of the nutritional value of our local foods," Garcia said.
"Secondly, I know that we have a challenge with respect to the taste patterns of our children. That many of them want to eat fried chicken. Sometimes when the local food is given to our students some of them don't readily accept it."
He appealed to students "to stay away somewhat" from eating fast foods, which can lead to non-communicable diseases.
Parents of student found wasting meals will be notified, Garcia said.
Thereafter, the student will be pulled off the school feeding list.