A LOOK AT THE MENU
If you’ve ever eaten at your child’s school canteen and found the food below par, you wouldn’t be alone in that thought.
‘After visiting schools and seeing what canteens serve, I discovered a huge gap between what’s on offer and what kids really need,’ said Anthea Mulakala, founder of Makanlah, a social enterprise that’s trying to introduce healthier menus to local schools. ‘That’s Makanlah’s goal – to try and make healthy food accessible to all kids.’
‘Nutrition is linked to learning,’ explained Anthea. ‘Countless studies show that kids who eat healthy meals actually do better in school and score higher on tests because they’re more alert. The opposite is also true – when they consume heavily fried food and soft drinks, they perform poorly, because you get this sugar high that goes into a slump and end up lethargic and lacking attention.’
More reason to eat healthy: Health statistics from preceding years continuously show that Malaysia is the most obese country in Southeast Asia. On a related note, one-in-five Malaysian children are overweight or obese. Even so, little effort has gone into providing healthier meals at school canteens.
Healthy canteen fare isn’t always the first factor parents take into consideration when choosing a school for their children. Quality of education, fees, location and accessibility are often placed higher on the ladder of importance.
Part of Makanlah’s outreach programme sees the team conducting road shows, surveying students and organising food tastings.
‘We get the kids involved by having them fill out online or paper surveys – a lot of poorer kids don’t have access to the internet. The simple survey asks them about their food preferences, how often they eat in the school canteen, how much they spend on average, and what kind of food would they like to see.’
The survey results are always a pleasant surprise. Canteen ‘wish lists’ reveal that students crave the likes of fresh fruit, smoothies, pasta and sandwiches.
In a separate survey, participants have to complete the following sentence: ‘I would eat canteen food more often if…’ Some reoccurring answers were: ‘If the canteen was cleaner’, ‘If the food was healthier’, ‘If they cooked with less oil’, and ‘If there were no rats and insects.’
‘This tells us that kids want healthy food and they want variety,’ said Anthea.
The next step calls for the cooperation of chefs and sponsors.
‘Saujana Hotels and Resorts has partnered with us to do food tastings. Their chefs get so excited because they want to do something community-oriented.’
Using the survey results as guidance, the chefs cook up multiple dishes in sample sizes, which are then scored by the kids. The final kidapproved menu gets inducted into a school’s canteen fare.
‘What we’re presenting is a winwin model. We’re not taking over the canteen, we’re not selling food from outside, and we’re giving an opportunity to canteen operators to receive training from professional chefs,’ said Anthea. ‘If schools adopt the Makanlah programme, the students become involved, as will parents. And then you get a community-based initiative.’ To find out more, check out their Facebook at www.facebook.com/ MakanLahSE. Makanlah’s dream of healthier school lunches can only go into full effect with the support and involvement of ParentTeacher Associations, partner chefs and sponsors. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to introduce Makanlah’s initiative to your child’s school.
Makanlah takes a community based approach to eating at school – kind of like Jamie Oliver