Schools conduct "dustbin tests" to find out if pupils are eating right

Bedok Green Primary 1 pupil Ziekriy Hannan Khairul Amin eating a bowl of noodles with bean sprouts. The school makes sure that healthy dishes look similar to the original versions, and limits the sale of snacks.
Bedok Green Primary 1 pupil Ziekriy Hannan Khairul Amin eating a bowl of noodles with bean sprouts. The school makes sure that healthy dishes look similar to the original versions, and limits the sale of snacks.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Post-recess checks of dustbins yield fewer dumped fruits, greens

It may seem a little strange to see adults looking through the trash in school canteens.

But for teachers and Health Promotion Board (HPB) officers, getting their hands dirty has been worth it.

"Dustbin tests", or checking the dustbins after recess to see what has been thrown away, are seen as a way to monitor the progress of the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme, launched in 2011.

And for a while, leafy vegetables and fruits were found in the bins. But more recently, the trash has shown that things have improved.

"Initially, many of the kids threw away the fruits and vegetables, but after a few months, they started eating them," said HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang. "We can see that with time, habits can change."

The programme is part of a slew of measures rolled out by the HPB to get people eating more healthily.

 
 

In February, the NurtureSG taskforce - set up to study how young Singaporeans can be encouraged to adopt healthy habits - gave an update on the programme.

Then, the Ministry of Education said the programme has been adopted by 319 out of 359 schools from the primary level to junior college. When asked again earlier this month, the ministry said "almost all schools" have come on board.

Some of the newest entries, like Bedok Green Primary, have taken pains to make sure healthy dishes look similar to the original versions, and limited the sale of snacks.

Canteen vendor Irene Giam makes french fries and seaweed chicken from scratch with an air fryer. "I think of a way to do it such that it's healthier, but also similar to the actual thing," said Madam Giam, who runs a mixed rice stall.

Others, like Zhonghua Secondary School in Serangoon, help canteen stall owners source for healthier ingredients at budget prices, and weave nutrition messages into their lessons.

"Towards the end of recess, we also walk around and encourage them to eat their vegetables if they haven't done so," said Madam Liang Kim Kee, who is part of Zhonghua's canteen committee.

Bedok Green principal Celine Ng said that some pupils were "quite resistant" initially, but started eating their greens after vendors figured out what was most well liked.

The school also uses unpolished brown rice that looks white, which makes children more willing to eat it, Mrs Ng added.

Stall holders are also sent for training to help them learn how to cook healthier meal options.

Mr Mok Lik Pung, who runs a mixed-rice stall at Zhonghua Secondary, said it was tough initially not being able to sell crowd-pleasers like nuggets and hotdogs. "In the beginning, it was hard for us, and it was hard for the students too. But after a while, you get used to it," said the canteen vendor of 17 years.

Primary 2 pupil Phoebe Teo is one of those who has fully embraced the new diet.

"They used to sell chicken wings, but now they don't," she said. "Now, they also give us fruits and I eat vegetables for all three meals."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2017, with the headline 'It's rubbish but it shows pupils are eating right'. Print Edition | Subscribe