The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados has taken aim at school canteen operators and vendors who may be partially responsible for the country’s alarming number of unhealthy, overweight and obese children.
Instead of condemning the offerings of the small businesses, the foundation has started providing much-needed guidance and support for alternative food and beverage options.
During a free training session for school canteen operators at The St. Michael School, the foundation embarked on another phase of its ‘switch it up’ campaign aimed at swapping unhealthy foods with healthier options.
Six institutions including Christ Church Foundation School, Queen’s College, the Alexandra School, Reynold Weekes Primary, the Rock Christian School and The St. Michael School will start the programme next month.
“Research shows that unhealthy, overweight and obese children usually translates into unhealthy children who are unable to perform, and the psychological effect of that in terms of bullying etcetera translates into poor performance in the classroom,” said Chief Executive Officer of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Michelle Daniel.
“…We are actually working hand-in-hand, giving demonstrations in terms of what can be done, drinks that can be made, food that can be prepared easily and is palatable and attractive to the children, because when the change is made, the children still have to eat and they still have to get nutritional value from their food. So literally it’s about making the transition work,” she said, while stressing that many of the foods and sweet drinks currently being consumed, contain significantly more sugar than professionals recommend.
Daniel went on to explain that in addition to healthy foods, the Heart and Stroke Foundation would be prioritising more health-related education and promoting exercise.
Registered dietician, Stacia Whittaker, a consultant with the foundation, who was a key speaker at Tuesday’s event, said canteen proprietors and vendors would be called upon to make significant changes to how they currently operate. These include swapping sodium-rich seasonings for fresh seasoning, deep-fat fried food for baked foods and coconut water instead of sweet drinks.
“We just want to get our vendors excited and encouraged to provide healthier options,” said Whittaker.
Key officials from the canteen at the Foundation School have shown tremendous interest in the programme and have employed proactive measures to facilitate a smoother transition to healthier drinks.
Canteen supervisor, Dennis Newton however acknowledged the process of sourcing alternative products would take some time.
“It is a workable situation, but for implementation purposes, we need all the information first and then we will probably start gathering materials. If they want healthier drinks, obviously we would have to shop around for things like golden apples, mangos and passion fruits and look at the menus and start working on it,” said Newton.
Bryan Clarke, the canteen proprietor at the Christ Church school, revealed that sour sop, gooseberry and five-finger trees were already planted on the school’s compound in anticipation of the transition to healthier options.
While acknowledging the change may mean less profits for business owners, he said: “When it comes to the children’s health, you can’t always look at profit. You have to balance the two and it cannot always be about profit.
He also called for the discussion on healthier lifestyles to adapt a more holistic focus, instead of highlighting only sweet drinks.
“We are trying to push cassava, eddoes, okras and ground provisions. We are coming up with things like breadfruit casseroles to push healthy and tasty foods as well,” he said.