A Mess(y) Affair

Here at IITB (and possibly at most hostels in the country), mess food often tends to be regarded with a certain degree of contempt. Most people end up eating mess food simply because there isn’t enough time (or money) for anything else. With the same dishes being repeated week after week, year after year, even the initial novelty is soon lost. Unfortunately, the problem with the messes is not confined only to the taste of the food that is served, or to the fact that it is highly repetitive, but also that the food is generally very oily and lacks many of the key components that make up a balanced diet.

In order to assess the current situation of the hostel messes and to find ways to improve on them, InsIghT decided to call 2 dieticians to review the messes of Hostels 2 and 3, and to take their professional opinion on where the messes could use some improvement. The first dietician was Dr Aditi Dey, visiting dietician at the IIT Hospital and Powai Hospital, who came to review the H3 mess. The second, Dr. Richa Anand, from Hiranandani Hospital, came to review the H2 mess. Both of them looked at the following aspects—menu, how the menu was changed, the way the food was prepared, the way it was stored and the general cleanliness of the kitchen. Their combined recommendations have been summarised below:

Nutritional Recommendations

Mess food tends to lack many important components of a well balanced diet. It may also have some components in greater quantities than required. Some of the observations and recommendations made are:

  • Vitamins: – The Vitamin content in the food can be increased by adding fruits and vegetables to the diet, as well as adding sprouts. Vegetables can be added by grinding them and adding them to rotis (palak ki roti), or serving them in rice (carrot rice).
  • Oil: – The oil content in mess food is higher than needed. The amount of oil can be decreased by giving lesser oil to the mess workers. Fried food can be replaced by fruit chaat etc. In most cases, oil usage can be dramatically cut down without affecting the food quality/taste in any way. Vegetables should be cooked with as little oil as possible.
  • Fibre:- The current fibre content in the mess food was considered very low, which is harmful in the long run. Sprouts, beans, vegetables are a good source of fibre. One fruit per day is an important requirement. Salads are a good source of vegetables. Using soya atta or a rice pan can also increase roughage content in the food.
  • Sugar: – The sugar content in most drinks is very high. Rasna can be replaced with nimbu paani, lassi etc. Desserts should also not be served more than twice a week.
  • Protein: – The protein content in the food was deemed sufficient owing to the large quantities of daal and paneer that are served. Additionally, beans should be served in the meals.

Apart from nutritional recommendations, the dieticians remarked that even if the food quality was good, if it isn’t stored properly, the overall quality would suffer. The basic cleanliness level in the messes could be better. The food should not be kept on the floor. Instead, steel racks should be placed to put the food on shelves; this will have the added advantage of increasing the space available for storage. Floor mats should be placed as well.

The dieticians also had specific suggestions for every meal:

  • Breakfast: – Fruits should be offered at breakfast. Eggs are very good. Porridge and upma could also be added. Cornflakes should be served daily with milk.
  • Lunch/Dinner: – The amount of fried foods and oil content should be reduced in the dishes. Quantity of paneer could also be reduced. Dishes such as Chole Bhature or chicken should instead be replaced with palak paneer and beans/sprouts.
  • Tiffin: – Tiffin is the meal that needs to be changed the most. Most of the dishes served have a lot of oil in them, and do not contain anything of nutritional value, such as Maggi or vada pav. Dishes such as sprouts, cheese sandwiches and fruit salads should be served instead.

The review of the Hostel 2 mess was good. H2 has a decent menu for the week that seems to incorporate most of the nutrients that are needed for a balanced diet. Also, they have a large number of dishes in the menu which are circulated on a weekly basis and allow a sense of variety to come into the food being served. The condition of the food that was being brought was very good. We hope that other hostel messes also follow this example, so that messes all over the campus come to be regarded with respect and admiration. ■

For further details contact Antariksh Bothale and Anubhav Mangal at antariksh.bothale@gmail.com and anubhavmangal1@gmail.com respectively.