It’s a challenge for almost every parent: making sure that your children eat well at all times — but particularly when they are out of sight at school.
The ministry of health has created a special recipe book for parents this year, featuring 20 carefully chosen local and international recipes designed to deliver the most balanced, nutritious and healthy lunch possible.
“The school lunch bag is an essential part of a child’s diet and is also considered one of the main reasons that could pose a threat to children with obesity, through the wrong choices of the quality of diets provided by the parents,” explained Nouf Khamis Al Ali, deputy director at the ministry’s health promotion department.
All recipes have been modified to minimize calories and suit different palates and contain easy-to-find ingredients.
“We have calculated the calories by controlling the fat, sugar, salt and oil content so that the children are fed healthy,” she said. “We had received feedback from working parents especially that they had problems deciding what to pack for their kids because they wanted healthy but tasty snacks for them.”
Since the end of August the ministry has also distributed 200 healthy school boxes through an online competition to raise awareness of childhood obesity. Each lunchbox contains a healthy recipe and measuring tools to help guide parents. In addition to a vegetable-laden pizza created with specially made sauce, a half-cup each of passion fruit, pear slices and mixed berries, along with a cup of low-fat yoghurt, 20 grams of mixed nuts and water. The box contains 545 calories, 4.3 grams of saturated fat, 19.3 grams of fat and 580 milligrams of sodium.
The program aims to raise community awareness about the need to provide healthy food for students, build the capacity of the community to adopt healthy lifestyles, create a health-supportive environment, and engage community bodies and institutions in health promotion programs.
Dr Hussain Abdul Rahman Al Rand, assistant undersecretary for public health, said the ministry was focused on raising healthy and active generations by providing them with mental and physical safety, and also enhancing healthcare levels according to the best international practices.
Dr Al Rand said that the prevention of childhood obesity is part of a national plan. Obesity is one of the leading factors of non-communicable disease, which has become one of the most pressing global health challenges. Prevalence of obesity hampers development efforts, reduces quality of life, and places an increased burden on health-care systems.
In 2020 the ministry conducted a study of nearly 28,000 parents, assessing five areas, including how the pandemic impacted physical activity and food behavior. The study found that pupils were 46 percent less physically active than before the pandemic, and at the same time their use of electronic devices for education and entertainment had increased.
The study addressed five areas: the impact of the pandemic on physical activity; the Covid-19 environment’s impact on food behavior of students; the impact of distance learning and home quarantine on students’ sleep patterns; the time spent by students in front of screens for educational and recreational purposes; and the impact of the pandemic on students of determination.”
The lack of physical activity, electronic-device use and an increase in ordering food from restaurants contributed to a rise in obesity levels, according to the survey. Sleep deprivation was also an issue, while an adverse impact on mental health was reported for half of the pupils.
More than half of the parents surveyed (51.9 percent) said they reduced orders for food delivery, while 19.7 percent said they increased their online food delivery orders.
Asma Ali Zain
Asma Ali Zain is a Dubai based journalist with a field experience of 19 years. She has written extensively on a range of topics and key issues in the region and beyond but her areas of expertise are health, wellbeing and lifestyle writings. She loves tea, cats and sunsets.