Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Junk food is out, healthy food is in

Junk Food
Creating ‘health awareness’ among schools has gained momentum as new guidelines introduced by Dubai Health Authority last month have started taking shape in schools.

Surprise tiffin checks, new nutrition guidelines, health committees and canteen reforms are being implemented across the board as schools strive to create a healthy environment

Catering to eight schools in Dubai, Accuro Support Services started providing healthy meals for schools in November last year. The service provider now caters to 14,000 students across the schools as they serve healthy meals and food for school students.

Giles Dale, CEO, Accuro Support Services says there is a growing need for quality food in schools as they are becoming increasingly aware of the nutritional requirements of younger kids.

“Most school caterers serve snacks or small meals as a side-business. There are very few specialised meal providers who design a menu suitable for individual schools and work in partnership with the kids and teachers,” says Giles.

While every school has its own requirements, the major challenge is to meet the taste expectations of students who choose to have their meals at school.

“There are Asian schools, Arab schools and western-expat schools and the food served has to be different. Also, the pricing depends on the meal served and it differs from school to school. Some schools have a retail environment where a child carries cash and buys the meal on their own, whereas others have their own lunch programme,” says Giles.

Emphasising on food safety and food quality, the group has also hired a dedicated full time nutritionist to look into the needs of school students.

While school authorities stress on creating healthy eating habits, the role of parents has become increasingly important as they are advised to start teaching the kids good eating habits from home.

Caroline Kanaan, Clinical Dietician at Advanced Nutrition Centre says, “Kids should not leave the home without having breakfast, which should be the first meal of the day. The adults in a home should set an example by eating healthy and this is where the kids start learning.”

She adds, “A lot of the times what kids get are starch products and cereals but what they don’t eat is a lot of cooked vegetables prepared in a healthy way. Families should incorporate vegetables into their meals.”

Advising school students to avoid packaged foods, Caroline says, “School students should try and have atleast two portions of fresh fruits every day. Too many sweets, cookies, biscuits and chocolates should also be avoided,” says Caroline.

The Dubai British School follows a strict lunch-box policy where parents are advised not to send junk foods.

“Every parent receives a circular informing them about the healthy foods that are allowed during school hours. Sometimes, if a parent does not send the right food, we return the lunch box and make arrangements for alternate meals with the parent’s permission,” said Lisa Price, school nurse, Dubai British School.

The school also does surprise tiffin checks where a teacher monitors the food sent from home and makes recommendations if needed.

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