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Food For Thought IELTS Reading Answers

Updated on 15 January, 2024

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

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The most effective way to succeed in the reading section of the IELTS  examinations is to practice several sample passages. Here is a reading passage on 'Food For Thought' with questions and answers to help your IELTS preparation.

‘Food For Thought


There are not enough classrooms at the Msekeni primary school, so half the lessons take place in the shade of yellow-blossomed acacia trees. Given this shortage, it might seem odd that one of the school’s purpose-built classrooms has been emptied of pupils and turned into a storeroom for sacks of grain. But it makes sense. Food matters more than shelter.


Msekeni is in one of the poorer parts of Malawi, a landlocked southern African country of exceptional beauty and great poverty. No war lays waste Malawi, nor is the land unusually crowded or infertile, but Malawians still have trouble finding enough to eat. Half of the children under five are underfed to the point of stunting. Hunger blights most aspects of Malawian life, so the country is as good a place as any to investigate how nutrition affects development, and vice versa.


The headmaster at Msekeni, Bernard Kumanda, has strong views on the subject. He thinks food is a priceless teaching aid. Since 1999, his pupils have received free school lunches. Donors such as the World Food Programme (WFP) provide the food: those sacks of grain (mostly mixed maize and soya bean flour, enriched with vitamin A) in that converted classroom. Local volunteers do the cooking – turning the dry ingredients into a bland but nutritious slop and spooning it out onto plastic plates. The children line up in large crowds, cheerfully singing a song called “We are getting porridge”.


When the school’s feeding programme was introduced, enrolment at Msekeni doubled. Some of the new pupils had switched from nearby schools that did not give out free porridge, but most were children whose families had previously kept them at home to work. These families were so poor that the long-term benefits of education seemed unattractive when setting against the short-term gain of sending children out to gather firewood or help in the fields. One plate of porridge a day completely altered the calculation. A child fed at school will not howl so plaintively for food at home. Girls, who are more likely than boys to be kept out of school, are given extra snacks to take home.


When a school takes in a horde of extra students from the poorest homes, you would expect standards to drop. Anywhere in the world, poor kids tend to perform worse than their better-off classmates. When the influx of new pupils is not accompanied by an increase in the number of teachers, as was the case at Msekeni, you would expect standards to fall even further. But they have not. Pass rates at Msekeni improved dramatically, from 30% to 85%. Although this was an exceptional example, the nationwide results of school feeding programmes were still pretty good. On average, after a Malawian school started handing out free food it attracted 38% more girls and 24% more boys. The pass rate for boys stayed about the same, while for girls it improved by 9.5%.


Better nutrition makes for brighter children. Most immediately, well-fed children find it easier to concentrate. It is hard to focus the mind on long division when your stomach is screaming for food. Mr Kumanda says that it used to be easy to spot the kids who were really undernourished. “They were the ones who stared into space and didn’t respond when you asked the question,” he says. More crucially, though, more and better food helps brains grow and develop. Like any other organ in the body, the brain needs nutrition and exercise. But if it is starved of the necessary calories, proteins and micronutrients, it is stunted, perhaps not as severely as a muscle would be, but stunted nonetheless. That is why feeding children at schools work so well. And the fact that the effect of feeding was more pronounced in girls than in boys gives a clue to who eats first in rural Malawian households. It isn’t the girls.


On a global scale, the good news is that people are eating better than ever before. Homo sapiens has grown 50% bigger since the industrial revolution. Three centuries ago, chronic malnutrition was more or less universal. Now, it is extremely rare in rich countries. In developing countries, where most people live, plates and rice bowls are also fuller than ever before. The proportion of children under five in the developing world who are malnourished to the point of stunting fell from 39% in 1990 to 30% in 2000, says the World Health Organisation (WHO). In other places, the battle against hunger is steadily being won. Better nutrition is making people cleverer and more energetic, which will help them grow more prosperous. And when they eventually join the ranks of the well off, they can start fretting about growing too fast.

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Read more about: Tips For Reading in IELTS Exam | IELTS Academic Reading | IELTS Reading Tips And Tricks | IELTS Reading Band Score IELTS General Reading Test | IELTS Reading Section |

Questions 1-7

The reading passage has seven paragraphs, A-G

Choose the correct heading for paragraphs A-G from the list below.

Write the correct number, i-xi, in boxes 1-7 on your answer sheet.

Guidelines/Tip for Answering These Types of Questions: Candidates need to read through the text and then make the suitable choice.

List of Headings

i.        Why better food helps students’ learning

ii.       A song for getting porridge

iii.      Surprising use of school premises

iv.      Global perspective

v.       Brains can be starved

vi.      Surprising academics outcome

vii.     Girls are specially treated in the program

viii.    How food program is operated

ix.      How food program affects school attendance

x.       None of the usual reasons

xi.      How to maintain an academic standard

1.  Paragraph A

2.  Paragraph B

3.  Paragraph C

4.  Paragraph D

5.  Paragraph E

6. Paragraph F

7.  Paragraph G

1iiiParagraph A explains how odd it was that one of the school’s classrooms turned into a storeroom for sacks of grain instead of it being filled with learners. 
2xParagraph B reaffirms that even though the land in Malawi is not excessively crowded or infertile, Malawians still struggle to find enough to eat.
3viiiParagraph C states that multiple donors, including the World Food Programme (WFP), provide bags of grain, which are mostly mixed maize and soya bean flour, rich in vitamin A. 
4ixParagraph D of the reading passage Food For Thought states that after the school introduced a feeding programme, the enrolment at Msekeni sped up and doubled. Pupils from nearby schools that did not give out free porridge had switched. However, the majority of pupils were from families who kept their children at home to work.
5viParagraph E explains how the standards were expected to fall even lower, but they didn’t. In fact, pass rates at Msekeni improved significantly, from 30% to 85%.
6iParagraph F mentions that children who are better nourished have a brighter future. It has been seen that well-nourished children find it easier to concentrate.
7ivParagraph G of the reading passage mentions the state and impact of nutrition from a global perspective.

Questions 8-11

Complete the sentences below using no more than two words and/or a number from the passage.

Write your answers in boxes 8-11 on your answer sheet.

Guidelines/Tip for Answering These Types of Questions: Candidates need to read through the text and then write the correct answer in not more than two words.

8.   ________ are exclusively offered to girls in the feeding programme.

9.   Instead of going to school, many children in poverty are sent to collect ________ in the fields.

10.   The pass rate as Msekeni has risen to ________ with the help of the feeding programme.

11.   Since the industrial revolution, the size of the modern human has grown by ________.

8extra snacksParagraph D mentions that it is more likely for families to keep their girls at home as compared to boys. These girls are given extra snacks to take home as an incentive to attend school.
9firewoodParagraph D of the reading passage Food For Thought mentions how poor families failed to see the long-term benefits of education when compared to the short-term advantages of sending children out to gather firewood or work in the fields. 
1085%Paragraph E explains how pass rates at Msekeni improved drastically, from 30% to 85%.” 
1150%Paragraph G mentions that since the industrial revolution the Homosapien population has grown by 50%. People suffering from chronic malnutrition have decreased significantly in the last three centuries.

Questions 12-13

Choose TWO letters, A-F

Write your answers in boxes 12 and 13 on your answer sheet.

Which TWO of the following statements are true?

Guidelines/Tip for Answering These Types of Questions: Candidates need to read through the text carefully and then choose the correct answer.

A.    Some children are taught in the open air.

B.    Malawi has trouble feeding its large population.

C.    No new staff were recruited when attendance rose.

D.    Girls enjoy a higher status than boys in the family

E.    Boys and girls experience the same improvement in the pass rate.

F.    WHO has cooperated with WFP to provide grain to the school at Msekeni.

12AParagraph A indicates the paucity of classrooms at the primary school of Msekeni. This results in classes being held under the shade of yellow-blossomed acacia trees. 
13CPargraph E describes that despite the influx of new pupils in Msekeni, there was no increase in the number of teachers.

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Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

Mrinal Mandal is a study abroad expert with a passion for guiding students towards their international education goals. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering, earned in 2018. Since 2021, Mrinal has been working with upGrad Abroad, where he assists aspiring students in realizing their dreams of studying abroad. With his expertise and dedication, he empowers individuals to navigate the complexities of international education, making their aspirations a reality.

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