SHANXI -- Despite a chilly December wind raging in the Luliang Mountains, a hinterland of West China's Shanxi Province, Wang Jing, a 13-year-old girl, felt warm. She sat in the school's steaming dining room as a bell signaled the end of the morning self-study period at eight o'clock.
Wang and 26 other students at the Diao' ergou Primary Boarding School, 40km away from the seat of Jingle County, just finished eating one free, fried egg. That was in addition to regular servings of porridge and steamed bread for breakfast.
"It feels somewhat like celebrating the New Year," said the fifth-grade girl.
Even though Wang has been eating free eggs every morning since the school began a nutritional program two years ago, she could not cover her happiness.
One egg a day, something considered trivial to urban children who grew up frequenting Kentucky Fried Chicken and MacDonald's, proved so dear to rural children in Jingle County, which is below the poverty level.
"Rural people will not eat eggs their hens lay. They will sell them on the market for about 20 yuan per kilogram," said Qiu Yingying, party chief of Diao'ergou Village. "The money will be used to pay for electric fees and other necessities."
An egg, which costs less than one yuan (US$0.15), means better nutrition and health for most poor rural children, like Wang.
According to a 2007 survey by southwest China's Sichuan Provincial Disease Prevention and Control Center, children from poor areas suffer from an unbalanced dietary structure frequently leading to malnutrition. Fresh eggs, containing protein, fat and amino acids were recommended by dietitians for being "ideal nutrition banks." The survey said eggs help improve children's brains and bodies.
Jingle, one of the 10 poorest counties in Shanxi, has 162,000 residents. Of them, 85 percent live in the countryside. In 2007, per capita income in Shanxi's rural areas amounted to 1,755 yuan (US$255). That's compared with the national average of 4,140 yuan (US$602) for rural residents across China.
"It is a blessing to cram us farmers with food. We do not have the wild wishes to eat well. Children have a hard time," said Qiu.
Children like Wang Jing.
"My mom was always reluctant to cook eggs for us. She said she had to save money from the eggs she sold to buy me books and pencils," the little girl said. "We would have one bowl of pork every five to six weeks."
Li Sikui is the principal of Xipoya High School in Jingle county. The school has 248 rural boarding students.