No, I'm not talking about the chicken curry I made for dinner last night. It was one of the best meals I've made here but all the coconut cream did not make it healthy.
I'm referring to the new nutrition guidelines the schools have been given for teachers and students. The Ministry of Health is trying to encourage people to change their current eating habits which are not healthy. Weight is an issue here and is the cause of a number of health concerns including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The food pyramid that the Ministry provided does not look like ours. I'm not sure if it's because they really think it's the best nutrition or if they realize the financial realities and are trying to help people shift their habits gradually.
For example, they recommend that starches such as taro, boiled green bananas or breadfruit be the main part of every meal. That is currently the case. They are recommending that people eat more non-starchy vegetables such as carrots, beans, cucumbers and squash, all of which are available here but eaten in limited quantities. They recommend limiting the use of oil/fat, sugar and salt which are key parts of the diet here now. They also recommend limiting how much canned/processed food is eaten like tinned corned beef, tinned mackerel packed in oil and ramen.
Watching the shift in what is served at the school "canteens" has been interesting. The kids are no longer allowed to run next door to my families store to buy junk snacks like the Pacific versiions of chips. They are encouraged to bring fruit instead.
The canteens are small stalls that have been set up on the playground by a few families, including one teacher, who until this change, was the only food provider. She traditionally served a cup of ramen noodles in weak broth. Very salty with little other flavor. She also occasionally served sandwiches (made in a sandwich griller) filled with either canned spaghetti (about 15 sandwiches per small can of spaghetti) or ramen noodles.
This week, lunch one day was cracker sandwiches. Two crackers with a filling of rice. Another day it was the grilled sandwiches filled with...nothing. Just two pieces of fried bread. Another vendor was selling large pieces of toast. 4 slices of toast per loaf of bread, no topping.
I eat a lot of vegetables. My latest kick has been par boiled long beans mixed with cucumber and onion, marinated in balsamic vinegar and spices. To make it a main dish I add tuna. Delicious and easy. And an effective way of using up all the beans, since you can only buy huge bunches. There is no option for buying small amounts.
I'd like to take my marinated salad or other healthy options to school to eat at interval. I don't because it is considered rude if I don't bring enough for everyone. At first it was ok because they saw I had a salad and turned their noses up at all the vegetables. Then they started tasting it and decided it was pretty good. Balsamic vinegar can only be found in Apia and is expensive. While it's a treat for me I just can't afford to make enough for 11 of us. Instead I end up not eating or sharing the ramen or pankeke that the teachers make. Pankeke is a thin mix of flour and water, fried in oil.
The good news is that I've seen kids eating more fruit than ever and they seem to like it. Currently oranges and guava are what's in season. I bought an apple the other day and started to eat it while waiting for a phone call by the road. As usual, I was surrounded by the neighbor's kids. I took a couple of bites, felt guilty and handed the apple to the youngest child. He immediately shared it with his five siblings. They loved it because apples are imported and too expensive to buy when you have a large family.
When I get my first taste of cheese enchiladas after 2 years, I guarantee I won't be sharing.