Food that’s not just pocket-friendly but healthy, too

PETALING JAYA: While Menu Rahmah is being lauded as a money-saving initiative, experts say the meals offered must also be nutritionally balanced and healthy.

Some of the dishes are not balanced and do not follow the Health Ministry’s “suku-suku separuh” (quarter-quarter-half) or 3S dietary recommendation, says Annie Yee, senior nutritionist and health educator at the Penang Adventist Hospital’s Community Health Department.

The 3S formula calls for a quarter of a meal being carbohydrates, like rice and cereal, a quarter being protein or meat, and half being fruits or vegetables.

While lauding the Menu Rahmah as a remarkable initiative, Yee said there were some downsides.

“The vegetable serving size is still very small. If you are to look into the 3S, the vegetable portion is way less. However, the carbohydrate portion is considerably bigger,” she said.

As Malaysia has a high rate of obesity, she said it was important to reduce the intake of carbohydrates and increase the portion of vegetables.

“Up to 95% of Malaysians do not consume adequate portions of vegetables.

“Menu Rahmah can be improved if a serving of fruits is included, such as a slice of papaya, honeydew or a piece of guava,” she added.

She said a menu featuring meals that fulfil dietary requirements could be expanded to schools, especially primary schools.

“We need to educate them on the correct portion of eating,” she said.

Consultant dietitian Ng Kar Foo said that although some meals did not comply fully with the 3S healthy plate model, the composition was not far off the requirement.

“The intention of this initiative is to support the hardcore poor. The price of the meal is below RM5 and the meal is said to consist of rice, vegetable and a meat dish.

“Although it does not comply entirely with the healthy plate model, it is good enough to support living.

“It does not make sense to tell people with low economic status to consume wholesome meals made up of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and good quality protein.

“Their budget simply does not allow it. Hence, nutrition advice has to be sensible,” he added.

He suggested that operators offering Menu Rahmah build a menu with the basic dietary requirement such as grains or other grain products, local vegetables, lean protein dishes, and preferably with seasonal fruits.

He said they should also use healthy cooking methods and comply with safe food handling guidelines.

They can also support the local industry by sourcing produce from smallholders or growing their own.

He also suggested operators work with a dietitian or nutritionist to plan a menu with a restricted budget.

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