‘Moderate meals must be balanced and have variety’

PETALING JAYA: A healthy breakfast is one that follows the “Balance, Moderation, Variety” (BMV) concept of a healthy diet, says Nutrition Society of Malaysia honorary treasurer Dr Roseline Yap.

“Balance means to include foods from all five food groups in the Malaysian Food Pyramid in your daily diet.

“Moderation, on the other hand, means to consume moderate portions as per the recommended number of servings per food group. “Lastly, variety means to include a variety of foods from each food group, ” said the nutritionist and Taylor’s University School of Biosciences senior lecturer.

Dr Yap noted that breakfast for young children should include three of the four food groups of fruit and vegetables, grains, dairy and protein.

“This is to ensure that schoolchildren are getting all the essential nutrients, for example, carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, ” she said.

She was commenting on the Education Ministry’s proposal to provide free breakfast for all primary pupils beginning in January.

Sunway Medical Centre Dietetics manager Celeste Lau said that portion size and culture were another two important aspects to consider.

“Young children cannot eat large portions early in the morning. So, those in Years One to Three should have smaller portions while those in Years Four to Six can have larger portions, ” said the dietitian.

“Malaysia is multicultural, so we cannot really use one food culture to feed all the pupils, unlike in Japan.

“However, this will also be a good way to expose the children to different food cultures.”As for pupils who are intolerant to certain types of foods like lactose or gluten, or who have food allergies, both Dr Yap and Lau agreed that school authorities had to take note of these restrictions.

“The children or their parents have to let the school know as it is quite difficult to have one meal suitable for everyone, ” said Lau.

Another possible issue is that of food safety, she added.

“It is easy to give out packed food but Malaysian children are used to hot food, which means that there needs to be a kitchen onsite to prepare the food.

“This then brings up the issue of food safety, including food handling and food storage, ” she said, pointing to past incidences of pupils consuming spoilt milk from the ministry’s previous milk programmes due to improper storage.

Many have joined the effort to improve meals at schools globally, which are generally deemed to be lacking in nutrition.

Among them is celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who has been actively trying to change eating habits in schools in Britain since 2005 with

his television show Jamie’s School Dinners.

The programme revealed the poor standards of school food in the UK.

The Jamie Oliver Foundation, in its research years later, found that many schools served food high in fat and sugar during break and lunch times despite the campaign.

Some of the food included pizza, doughnuts, muffins and cookies.

It was reported that Oliver admitted his school dinner campaign was not a success as he felt that eating well was still viewed as an “indulgence of the middle classes” in the Britain.

Former US first lady Michelle Obama had pushed for healthier school meals as part of her agenda to tackle obesity. During the Obama administration, the US Congress passed laws requiring school lunches to be more nutritious.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed by the Congress in 2010, required schools to only provide grain products that contained at least 50% whole grains and reduce sodium, full-fat milk and meat from meals.

Snacks with low nutritional value were to be swapped for fruit cups and granola bars.

The United States’ Department of Agriculture also published new regulations to enforce the law.

However, that initiative failed as Donald Trump’s administration reversed those guidelines last year.

In the United Arab Emirates, the authorities have banned junk food such as chocolate, crisps, soft drinks and chewing gum from school canteens in Dubai since 2011.

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