Panaji. Along with a dedicated training regime, diet and nutrition plays a key role in an athlete’s journey to unlock the peak of their potential. And when it comes to an event of the magnitude of the National Games, no detail can be overlooked.
The presence of over 11,000 athletes and countless travelling and operating staff at the 37th National Games posed a considerable challenge in terms of food catering day in and day out. The organising committee not only faced the task of feeding these numbers four times a day – with breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner – they also had to bear in mind the needs of different sports disciplines, cultures and gastrointestinal sensitivities of athletes, all while trying to offer an authentic Goan flavour in each meal.
Speaking about the challenges, spokesperson of Thomas Cook, the company entrusted with the job of putting all this together said, “Our first order of business was to get our menu vetted by the Indian Olympic Association’s nutrition team.
We spoke with nutritionists to gauge the protein, carbohydrate and other nutritional requirements of the various sports, and our menu was then prepared to fulfil these needs of the athletes. We also had a cyclic system in place, meaning that the lunch menu on Day 1 of the Games would be the dinner menu on Day 8. This was done so that the menu was not repetitive, which kept things interesting for the athletes and staff.”
With over 70,000 people successfully served during the course of the Games that ran from October 26 to November 9, the size of the National Games catering operation was of mammoth proportions. Over 1200 litres milk, 900kg paneer, 800kg fish, 750kg chicken, 15000+ bananas and 1250kg apples were being used on a daily basis by a catering team of 450 cooks and 520 service staff.
Delving further into the challenge of the sheer scale in numbers at the 37th National Games, he said, “We had 9 live kitchen setups in each venue, so that the food was always prepared fresh and we were able to cater to such large numbers. For our service staff, we hired a huge contingent of local Goan staff with experience in catering big ticket events. This generated a lot of employment in Goa as well. Moreover, all our raw material required was sourced locally from centres in South and North Goa and Panjim, while certain vegetables were sourced directly from local farmers.”
With frequent movement of VIPs and media personnel across the multiple venues, a streamlined approach and having staff present on-ground helped the catering team understand the food requirements of each day. After a week into the event, a peak number of 17,800 people served in a single day was reached on November 2, 2023.
Apart from serving the nutritional needs of athletes and operating staff at the Games, another responsibility incumbent upon the catering team was to maintain proper hygiene during the course of the event. To this effect, Thomas Cook had put a set of protocols in place.
“Hygiene is of utmost priority to us as it’s a key part of everyone’s experience at the event. Every kitchen and dining area had housekeeping staff which replaced the table covers after every meal to maintain cleanliness. We also used disposable biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery in every meal. This ensured clean and fresh materials and saved water,” he said.