Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

Halloween comes to Malta

October 29, 2011

So Halloween has come to Malta big time.

Up till a few years ago you would perhaps hear of a Halloween party here and there among university students or other groups where there were a few individuals visiting from the  USA. But nowadays the shop windows and shelves are full of Halloween paraphernalia. I have even seen specially designated crates in supermarkets and local corner shops with bagfuls of packaged trick-or-treat sweets.

So why am I writing about this?

As a Home Economist…

I feel this sharing of special holiday rituals is something which helps us appreciate each other’s cultures and also enriches our life experiences.

I also think this is a great opportunity for children and young people to be creative; perhaps designing their own original costumes and producing them by reusing materials available at hand; or carving out pumpkins and other fruit or vegetables to make their own special lanterns.

I am afraid that the commercialisation of this holiday event is really rampant and that perhaps it could lead to overspending on items of limited lasting value. How many children will want to wear the same costume the following year, or still be able to wear it size-wise? (Of course costume-swapping could be an idea to consider.)

As a Maltese Home Economist…

I think it’s good to see Maltese children and youth finding another opportunity to get together and do things as groups; also getting some physical exercise  by spending a few hours touring their neighbourhoods on foot, or dancing away at some organised party.

I am concerned however that this will become yet another occasion for children to overeat and store up on lots of sweets and high-sugar, high-fat foods as they go round trick-or-treating. (See this blog post and video from US Nutrition Educator Connie Evers on trying to offer a healthier trick-or-treat experience to children: http://truthonhealth.org/blog/2011/10/18/guest-blog-connie-evers-cast-a-healthy-spell-on-trick-or-treaters/;
http://www.katu.com/amnw/segments/132794868.html)

I am also concerned that Halloween is stealing away from the focus on our local traditions related to this time of the year.  Apart from the religious rituals attached to Jum il-Qaddisin Kollha (All Saints’ Day, November 1) and Jum l-Erwieħ (All Souls Day,  November 2), I am also thinking of the folklore and food associated with these feasts.

I commend the confectionery shops which have continued to produce the traditional All Souls Day sweet – a bone-shaped almond paste-filled pastry called Għadam tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Bones). Symbolically, they were meant to encourage Christians to remember their deceased loved ones and friends and to pray for the souls of the dead who were not yet in paradise.

I also commend any organisation, company or catering outlet which is trying to revive awareness of the All Souls Day Minestra tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Minestrone) and Ħanżira tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Pig); two dishes which were meant to encourage generosity with the poor.

On All Souls Day, Franciscan priests used to set out huge pots or cauldrons in the town and village streets and the locals could add any vegetables they had available at home. Eventually, these pots were placed over a heat source and the Minestra tal-Erwieħ was cooked. This soup was then made available to the poorer residents of the
locality.

Il-Ħanżira tal-Erwieħ was another charitable tradition. A few weeks prior to All Souls Day, one of the wealthier village or town residents would buy a pig, tie a little bell around its neck and let it loose in the neighbourhood.  People could hear the pig approaching from inside their homes and would go out and feed it. On All Souls Day this fattened pig was captured and slaughtered. The pig was then cooked (often roasted) and also shared with the poor of the locality so that they would be able to have some meat.

IDEA! Maybe the Borża ta’ San Martin (St Martin’s Bag) tradition could become our day for Maltese children to go trick-or–treating. On the feast of St Martin, celebrated each year on November 11, Maltese children traditionally receive a bagful of nuts (e.g. walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts), dried fruit (e.g. figs), a special sweet
dough bun (Ħobża ta’ San Martin) and seasonal fruit (e.g. tangerines and pomegranates). Rather than find the bag hanging on their bedpost,  children could go round their neighbourhood collecting tasty, seasonal nutritious goodies for  their borża.

(Għadam tal-Erwieħ image courtesy of Jubilee Foods)

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Cooking skills for children – A ‘real’ need

June 14, 2010

A while ago, Jamie Oliver (known for his school food revolution) won an Award in the USA for promoting the need for food education.  In his words, food education includes learning how to cook.

I could not agree more. Cooking skills are essential for children – teaching them how to make tasty, healthy foods quickly is teaching them a skill necessary for life. Parents and adults need to realise their role in teaching their children how to cook. So do schools. To quote Jamie: “Under the circumstances, it’s profoundly important that every single [American] child leaves school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their life. Life skills.”  I strongly feel this applies to Maltese children too. And we were nearly there once….

Home Economics has been around as a school subject in Malta for decades. Thousands of students have benefitted from a Home Economics education. Healthy and economical cooking has always been integral to this school subject. Home Economics students have enjoyed cooking. Home Economics students have learnt from cooking.

BUT UP TILL THIS DAY NOT ALL MALTESE STUDENTS HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO HOME ECONOMICS IN SCHOOL.

It’s time we worked on this again in Malta. Now.

A few years ago the local education authorities committed themselves to ensuring a food and nutrition education entitlement for all students to help them towards healthier living. (see HELP document p.15 http://www.youth.gov.mt/ministry/doc/pdf/HELP_document.pdf) I agree that this is easier said then done. I also acknowledge that several initiatives are already under way. But we need to accelerate the process for the good of our children.

Take a look at the video of Jamie Oliver’s award acceptance speech. (http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html)  It is truly an eye-opener. Please see the video right till the end. Hear his final wish. Take what is applicable to you and whether you are a  mum, dad, teacher, student, school administrator or food producer help in bringing back what’s been lost: The family and the school teaching cooking skills to the younger generation.

Bring back Home Economics Education

May 21, 2010

On May 11, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA) published an article recommending that Home Economics (HE) Education should be brought back as a compulsory subject in US schools. 

The rationale given by the authors (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig) was that the younger generations are growing up with no healthy and thrifty food and meal preparation  skills and that HE education could help overcome this deficiency and thus  help curb rising obesity figures.

The article lays emphasis on the need to teach students about the
scientific and practical aspects of food – basic cooking techniques;
caloric requirements; sources of food (from farm to fork); food shopping and budgeting principles; food safety; sourcing and using nutrient information and labels; and effects of food on well-being and risk for chronic disease.

I feel that this list of topics is typical of a classic Home Economics curriculum, though the article does say that these topics may be  taught in a cross curricular manner.

Below are the introductory and concluding sentences of the article.

“Home Economics, otherwise known as domestic education, was a fixture in secondary schools through the 1960s, at least for girls. The underlying concept was that future homemakers should be educated in the care and feeding of their families. This idea now seems quaint, but in the midst of a pediatric obesity epidemic and concerns about the poor diet quality of adolescents in  the United States, instruction in basic food preparation and meal planning skills needs to be part of any long-term solution.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1857)

“Obesity presently costs society almost $150 billion annually in increased health care expenditures. The personal and economic toll of this epidemic will only increase as this  generation of adolescents develops weight-related complications such as type 2 diabetes earlier in life than ever  before. From this perspective, providing a mandatory food preparation curriculum to students throughout the country may be among the best investments society could make.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1858)

This article serves as further evidence of the need for a period of compulsory HE education, for both male and female students, during the formal years of schooling.

Access article here:  http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/303/18/1857

“Tasty and crunchy please” children say

May 1, 2010

As part of my doctoral research I studied  how Maltese and Gozitan children prefer their fruits and vegetables. A recent study with children from the Netherlands has found some similar results.

From my research it was clear that children’s attraction to fruits and vegetables depended on such factors as taste, texture, temperature, aroma and colour.

Some of the specific features in these categories were common promoters or barriers to consumption for both vegetables and fruit.

For example, attributes such as ‘sweet’, ‘flavoursome’, ‘fresh’,  ‘juicy’ and ‘red colour’ attracted children to both food groups; whereas attributes such as ‘soft’, ‘soggy’ and “full of seeds” were barriers to consumption for both food groups. 

These were the key findings:

Features in vegetables and fruits which attracted children

Flavour: Pleasant, flavoursome, sweet, vinegary flavour, fresh, “special”

Texture: Thin”, “light”, creamy, juicy, crunchy, hard

Colour: Red, violet

Size: Small

Shape: Round

Convenience: Easy to peel or divide

Enjoyment value: Fun to eat (e.g. globe artichoke leaves) or to make funny faces with (e.g. cherry tomatoes in cheeks)

Features in vegetables and fruits which were less attractive

Flavour: Unpleasant, strong, bitter, sour

Texture: Dry, soft, soggy/ “squashy”, chewy, full of seeds

Convenience: Difficult to pick up from plate, difficult to keep on fork, dribbles 

The Dutch study found that the majority of children liked steamed or boiled vegetables best, and attributed this to the fact that the carrots and beans used in the study retained their original taste, colour and crunchiness. These findings were pretty similar to  those for Maltese children.

For more on the Dutch study read here:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE62N1EY20100324

Do your experiences with children tally with the above?

What do you do to attract children to eat fruits and vegetables?

Campaign to retire Ronald McDonald

April 6, 2010

On March 31st, Corporate Accountability International launched a campaign asking McDonald’s to retire its mascot Ronald McDonald. 

http://retireronald.org/

This organisation states that there are several arguments to justify asking for Ronald’s retirement, primarily that this character has been used for nearly 50 years to lure children to eating less healthy food.

A survey conducted among a representative sample of the US adult population, in November 2009, showed that almost half of those surveyed agreed that it was time to retire Ronald.

This is the link to the full background report by Corporate Accountability International for those who are interested. 

http://retireronald.org/files/Retire%20Ronald%20Expose.pdf

Note: I am posting this bit of news and report not to demonise Ronald McDonald specifically (other characters are used in a similar way by other food companies), but rather to raise awareness that around the world adult carers are becoming concerned regarding the ‘unethical’ marketing ploys used by food companies to target young consumers.

Children are considered a vulnerable audience and companies often use various settings which children typically frequent, or where children spend long hours, to expose them to a variety of not-so-nutritious food. These companies also take advantage of children’s pester power to ‘force’ parents to buy certain food products.

You might ask “Is there something we should be doing ourselves at an individual or community level to curb this type of marketing to children?” 

Here  is a quote from the Retire Ronald Expose to get you thinking (p.23):

‘• Support local policy efforts, like eliminating all marketing, advertising and sales of fast food from school grounds, property in immediate proximity to schools, children’s libraries, playgrounds and other places where children visit frequently as well as hospitals serving children;

 • Support international policy efforts that encourage national governments to respond to this growing public health crisis by curbing the advertisement, marketing and promotion of unhealthy food products to children and young people.’

Winning Video on Childhood Obesity

April 3, 2010

‘Childhood Obesity: A Challenge Facing America’ is a video produced by a Home Economics student in Hawaii. It just won first prize in a national US competition.

See the video here:

 http://studentcam.viddler.com/videos/watch.php?id=9932b996

Though the environment and context are slightly different from Malta, I feel this video could be a useful tool to use in our Home Economics classrooms (or in any educational setting with teenagers) when talking about being healthy, factors which influence our health status, food choices, level of physical activity and diet-related diseases.

I also feel, however, that when we are ‘teaching’ we should  not dwell too much on ‘body weight’;  but rather our focus should be on giving practical tips, offering encouragement and facilitating making the right choices to eat healthily and to be physically fit, as individuals and as family members.