Schools in Dubai are taking healthy eating very seriously. Whether it’s about changing the rules on healthier lunches or mulling a Dh1 fine on unhealthy snacks bought to school, authorities believe it’s high time that adults inculcate a healthy eating lifestyle in children.
Several schools in the city are encouraging healthy eating in their own way. Recently, Foremarke School invited celebrity chef Gary Rhodes to give lessons on healthy eating to pupils.
Central to the campaign is the use of high quality and, where possible, organic ingredients in a return to traditional but healthy school meals. The students are taught about the ingredients, where they come from, how they are produced and how best to cook them to make the most of the flavours while still paying attention to health.
Another Dubai school, Emirates International School in the Meadows, an IB curriculum institution, has banned foods such as chips in school. Children are taught not to get unhealthy food and big posters in the school corridors stare in your face that read “you are junk if you eat junk”.
A couple of months ago, health experts suggested Dubai schools impose a Dh1 fine for every time a child brings an unhealthy lunchbox to school.
Beyond telling parents what to send in packed lunchboxes to school, another school, Dubai British School, is teaching children the very basics of food and what makes healthy eating by growing their own vegetables in the school premises.
This, the school believes, clears many misconceptions that Dubai children have about food. It’s a way of telling them that chips do not come from McDonald’s and letting them learn the process of growing food and helping them distinguish between unhealthy and nutritious food.
For this reason, vegetable are being grown in patches and the first produce has been used to make an organic school grown salad in the school. Surprisingly, children are happy to buy food grown in school as against the preconceived notion that it’s only junk food that they are attracted to.
Health authorities are also educating teachers on healthy eating. Recently, about 400 teachers from private and public schools in Dubai took part in a seminar on school nutrition held by the Dubai Health Authority, Indian High School and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.
And, this advice should be taken very seriously. Previous countrywide studies have shown that nearly 40 per cent of schoolchildren in the UAE are overweight and 15 per cent are obese. Such kids grow up to become obese adults.
In fact, Dubai has been the only city in the world to pay gold to its residents to lose weight in its fight against obesity. The city’s 30-day weight loss challenge was a huge success but healthy eating habits should develop very early on in life. The best way to do it is perhaps in the foundation years, by teaching little ones to choose a lettuce sandwich over a cheese burger.