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Healthy diet in schools

by Rebecca Joyce Pereira 1 Nov 2012
Healthy diet in schools

Obesity among children has increased over the past few years and it has become a major concern across the world. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, it has more than tripled in the past 30 years on a global scale. And the main reason is due to the unhealthy lifestyles led by today’s generation. The consumption of unhealthy food and the lack of exercise in their daily lives inevitably become the cause of serious health problems as they grow older.

In Malaysia especially, where the culture is diverse and the food is abundant, it is hard to instill healthy eating habits when you have options such as ‘Nasi Lemak’ and ‘Fried Mee’ for breakfast as well as the growing number of fast food outlets that are easily available at almost every street corner.

All these food, although delicious is not really the best choice of meal for children. There is no harm in consuming it once in awhile but an overall balanced diet is vital for a growing child. During this crucial stage, a child’s immune system is weak and prone to illnesses thus needing the right amount of nutrients to fight off harmful bacteria.

As parents try to set a good example by leading a healthy lifestyle, schools also play an important part in educating the students about the importance of maintaining a well balanced diet.

The YES and the NO
Children spend a substantial amount of time in school; hence it is the responsibility of the schools to ensure that their students are given healthy meals throughout the day. It is a task that is taken very seriously by international schools across the country, and one of the best ways to do so, is by implementing certain rules and regulation, as to what can and cannot be brought, or sold in school grounds.

Carbonated drinks, nuts and candies are not allowed in schools such as The Alice Smith School and British International School Kuala Lumpur (BSKL) as they are high in sugar content, and not suitable for children. An increase of sugar in their bloodstream would cause the students to become hyperactive which would distract them from focusing during their lessons.

Healthy snacks such as muesli bars, yoghurt and fruits are provided by canteen operators or can be brought from home. The schools make it a point to encourage students to drink lots of water throughout the day to keep them hydrated.

“We don’t say no to everything, because it is a balance that the students need to learn. They are allowed to bring a small bit of chocolate but they are supposed to have a balanced lunchbox”, says Alison Nadarajah, Assistant Principal at The Alice Smith School.

The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) in Ampang takes on a different approach in this matter as the students are of an older age ranging from middle school right up to high school. Instead of cutting off all carbonated drinks completely, they see the need in providing isotonic drinks for extra energy during their after school activities. However, these items are only sold towards the end of the day and are not available for breakfast or lunch.

Providing Choices
Children are generally fussy when it comes to food. Vegetables are often seen as the worst part of a meal and they tend to get bored of the taste after just a few bites. This is a normal scenario faced by schools during lunch time especially when it involves children from the age of four to eight years old. In order for them to enjoy their lunch, caterers or vendors are advised to rotate their menu or change it regularly to create a sense of curiosity among students in discovering the different flavours present in food.

Emma Cleary, Administrative Director of BSKL says that the school caters to all palates with a range of Asian and Western cuisines such as Shepherd’s Pie and Lasagna which are among the favourite choices. The reason for introducing the different kinds of cuisines available is to get the children interested in learning more about the culture behind the dishes and generally to get them to eat their meal.

“The way we eat here is that the teacher sits together with the children to keep an eye on whether they are eating their lunch and if not, encourage them to try the other options available. A lot of the Asian students like the Western food and the Western children will give the Asian food a try and end up liking it”, explains David Kirkham, Head of Middle School/IT at BSKL.

Kevin Nozaique, Country Manager of SHF Services the catering team behind all the meals prepared at the Lycee Francais De Kuala Lumpur (LFKL), believes that by including dishes from around the world in their menu, the students are exposed to the different styles of cooking and taste. Every day, the students are given a choice of Western (French, Italian, English) and Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Indian).

Although different cuisines are introduced in schools, the food is prepared to be balanced and healthy according to the nutrients that the body needs, as well as portioned according to the right percentage or amount that’s recommended for children based on different age groups.

A typical meal at LFKL would consist of dishes that contains raw vegetables (Ceasar Salad, Cream of Asparagus), protein (Grilled Lamb Chop with Mint Sauce, Braised Beef Stew), cooked vegetables or fruits (Mixed vegetables, Stir Fried Lady Fingers with garlic), starch with low sugar (Butter pasta with herbs, roasted potatoes), dairy products (Cheese, Yoghurt) and fresh fruits (mixed fruit salad).

Special programmes are set up to introduce the various and unique taste of the world to their students. ISKL recently had an international fair which saw the involvement of the parents and students together with the school to promote the vast culture present in the world through food and other items.

“We have a programme in collaboration with the French embassy called ‘The Week of Taste’, where we introduce local food and some Malaysian specialities to the students. As a lot of the students are expatriates, they don’t know what a mango or durian is, so through this programme they have the opportunity to get a taste of it,” says Emmanuel Denaux, Special Projects Manager at LFKL.

These activities and special programmes are set up to not only get the students interested in food but also is a way to make them appreciative of the different tastes available.

Time for a Change
The method in which a meal is cooked and the ingredients that are used are what make it taste delicious. However that does not necessarily mean that the food has to be soaking in oil or filled with fatty ingredients. Steaming, baking or grilling using unprocessed ingredients is a healthier cooking option that many schools have implemented. It keeps all the good minerals intact in the food adding to its nutritional value.

“We made a few changes to the meals prepared in our school by changing the fats and reducing the amount of it, we changed the type of cooking oil to a healthier one and we took out salt completely from the meals,” says Alison of The Alice Smith School.

“The children didn’t really notice that the food does not contain salt,” she exclaims.

Changing the method of cooking, using fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch may seem like a lot of work but it is an effort taken by the schools to ensure that the students get the best out of everything.

“No added preservatives, MSG or any artificial flavouring are added into the meals,” says Kevin Nozaique who oversees the food preparation at LFKL. And the same goes for all the other schools mentioned as a lot of thought are put into developing a healthier menu in the schools.

Students Involvement
Robert D. Thompson, Assistant Head of School—Operations at ISKL explains how important it is to get the students involved in the decision making process to create a platform for discussions on ways to improve the school especially where food is concerned.

“We are actively involved on both sides; the vendors and the school. We give our opinions and make a few suggestions whenever we see fit”, says Phil, student representative at ISKL.

He further explains that communication between the students and the vendors are important and have been successfully established at ISKL. “We practice a direct communication with them so whenever we feel like a dish does not meet adequate standards or if there simple should be an extra dish, we will let them know”.

Even the younger students are given the opportunity to have their say in what constitutes as a good and balanced meal. At Alice Smith, a student council which comprises representatives from each class is given samples of food to taste which they then report back on the ones they liked and share their experience with the rest of the class.

“If you don’t get the children onboard, you are really not going to get anywhere”, says Alison from Alice Smith School. Forcing a child to like something would not work especially when you are dealing with young kids but by getting them to understand the benefits of a good meal and taking their opinions into consideration would make it easier for the school to get the students comfortable with the idea of practicing a healthy lifestyle.

Keeping Fit
Simply by changing the meals and implementing healthier cooking method is not sufficient enough to create a healthy lifestyle. Educating them on good eating habits as well as encouraging them to pick up a sport or exercise are important aspects that should not be overlooked.

Elaborating on that, Andrew Green, a Year 2 Teacher at BSKL teaches his students about healthy humans in which they investigate diets and the different food groups available as well as the importance of exercise in which the human body needs to grow healthy and strong.

It is compulsory that every student take up a sport in school, be it basketball, swimming, football, or netball. And through these exercises, the students are able to burn off the unhealthy calories and strengthen their bones and muscles in the process.

Research has shown that when children eat healthier food and get enough exercise, they have better concentration in the classroom and it also minimises the risk of falling sick. This is why it is recommended that children have a balance of both in their daily lives.

Apart from being afforded the best in academics, the initiatives taken by each of these schools help ensure that the wellbeing of each student is given due attention. Their time and efforts put into the development of their students deserves to be recognised and appreciated. It is through them that the awareness of a healthy lifestyle is created to produce students who are physically and mentally healthy.

LISTINGS:

The Alice Smith School Primary Campus
2 Jalan Bellamy, KL
Tel: 03–2148 3674
www.alice-smith.edu.my

The British International School (BSKL)
1, Changkat Bukit Utama,
Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03–7727 7775
www.bskl.org.my

The International School Kuala Lumpur (ISKL)
Jalan Kolam Air, Ampang, KL
Tel: 03–4104 3000
www.iskl.edu.my

Lycee Francais De Kuala Lumpur (LFKL)
34 Jalan Dutamas Raya, KL
Tel: 03–6250 4415
www.lfkl.edu.my

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