BEST OF HEALTH – Tasty, nutritious meals at schools
FRENCH FRIES are the most popular dish on the menu at most school canteens, but the practice of adding extra salt is now a thing of the past.
Since the introduction in 2008 of a Ministry of Health-led programme in the island’s secondary schools to encourage good menu-planning, canteen operators have taken several steps to encourage healthy eating, among them the removal of the salt-shakers from their operations.
Operator of The St Michael School’s canteen, Shenel Baptiste, said that since she took over the operation in September 2009 several changes had been made, in addition to those proposed by the Ministry of Health.
Carbonated drinks are no longer offered. There was a switch to wholewheat bread and foods are baked.
Baptiste noted that the canteen now offers chicken and burgers baked or barbecued.
“The only thing we fry is the chips, which are our best-seller,” she reported. “The chips are fried because, even though they can be baked, it takes too long to bake them in large amounts.
“But we do not offer extra salt to add to them and we monitor the ketchup as we put that on ourselves.”
She said that while some canteen operators were looking only at their profit margin she thought it was her responsibility to implement some simple, yet effective changes.
“We had a good response to the menu . . .,” she pointed out. “At first, I thought it would not fly, but many of [the students] have changed their attitude to the food – it is no problem as long as it tastes good.”
The canteen operator at the Deighton Griffith Secondary School, Terry Sealy, explained that he offered healthy foods daily and all meals came with vegetables.
He also cut back the serving of chips and other fried foods two days a week, replacing that choice with grilled, baked or boiled items.
He attributed the acceptance of the menu to its variety, including vegetable lasagna and vegetable rice, cou cou, steamed food and sweet potato pie.
Juices are offered at a cheaper price to encourage students to switch from soft drinks, which Sealy plans to phase out.
At Combermere School most of the meals were already being served with fresh vegetables. However, there was a reduction in the amount of salt and sugar used and a switch to vegetable oil in food preparation.
Carbonated drinks have been off the menu for the past four years and only juice, water, Powerade, Plus and malts are available. The salad menu ranges from coleslaw to potato salad and tossed salad.
The emphasis on healthy eating reflects deep concern about the large numbers of students overweight or suffering from diabetes.
The Diabetes Association of Barbados’ first vice-president, Noreen Merritt, said that in order for any major progress to be made in correcting eating habits parents have to be taught the importance of proper nutrition so they can influence their children.
“It is very disheartening to see children with the big bags of corn-curls instead of fruit,” she remarked.
“It is not to say they cannot eat any but encourage them to share a packet with a friend so they do not consume all of those empty calories.”
Merritt said that three years ago there were reported to be at least 32 new cases of children being diagnosed with diabetes and that number was likely to have increased.