Ben’s Farmhouse launches a campaign to encourage schoolchildren to choose healthier and more sustainable food
In accordance with recent government measures, local award-winning chef Ben Tobitt of Ben’s Farmhouse launches a multi-pronged campaign to promote and teach healthier and more sustainable food choices for schoolchildren
The UAE’s Federal National Council recently declared that all public and private schools in the Emirates will now follow a uniform healthy eating policy. The new rule will forbid all unhealthy food from being served in schools and encourage pupils to eat a balanced diet.
A recent survey commissioned by key ‘Food for Life’ partners highlighted the need for education and awareness around healthy diets in the UAE, as it found that less than 25% of UAE residents eat whole foods every day.
A more sustainable, healthy way of eating is what Ben’s Farmhouses’ proposed “Farm to School” initiative is all about, which is also the company’s main message. Given that school meals make up a sizable number of children’s daily diets and are essential in directly meeting their nutritional needs, Bens’ objective is to be the most environmentally friendly food option for his customers in the region.
Ben believes that this project is a terrific starting step toward implementing real reforms that will significantly improve the behavior and health of schoolchildren every day across the UAE. The campaign begins its first full-school takeover at the premier French-speaking institution in the UAE, the Lycée Français International Georges-Pompidou, located in Academic City.
Ben explains “We honestly could not have asked for a better school to start our journey with. The students are so willing to try new things & be open-minded. I am pretty sure this stems from what they eat at home & how their parents grew up with food too. Ultimately if parents can make that conscious effort to feed their children well from a very early age, I’m a firm believer it will massively increase the chances of children eating better in the later years of their childhood”.
Ben demonstrates how the menu, the dishes, the ingredients, and the customer service are all in line with what you would anticipate when dining at a high-end restaurant with the help of an excellent team of fine-dining and gourmet-trained restaurant chefs and front-of-house staff.
Local suppliers are particularly crucial to this project because there is an increasing amount of food produced locally that Ben believes has enormous advantages in terms of freshness, cost, availability, and decreased carbon footprint. Due to the fact that farms are often only a few minutes away, importing no longer involves the several middlemen that were previously engaged. Additionally, buying locally supports farmers and suppliers.
Ben speaks about how he always starts with looking for ingredients in Dubai, then UAE & then GCC. “Right now, it would be impossible to source 100% from these regions so there is an element of import still. That being said, I would be hopeful that maybe 5-10 years down the line, the need for importation would drastically decrease. One of the main farms we use for vegetables is Veggitech based in Sharjah/Ajman, we also use Right farm which helps massively in sourcing products from all over the UAE & GCC. Dairy from Al Ain dairy, local poultry from Abu Ahmed & locally produced cheeses from Italian dairy.”
The school’s cuisine at LFIGP changes daily and is based on seasonal ingredients. It also has a kiosk with a selection of salads, wraps, ciabattas, pastries, snacks, and fresh, nutritious beverages. Ben’s Farmhouse, which serves Californian poke bowls, vegan cookies, banana bread, and other desserts of the day in the high school canteen, helps to mix things up and keep things interesting for the students. Along with a side dish, there is always a protein and vegetarian choice available with well-liked main meals including Thai curry and slow-cooked beef bourguignon.
Ben’s Farmhouse has also added a strong focus on the fit-out & design of the canteen & kiosk areas, which educate the children about nutrition as well as being vibrant & fun giving everyone a lift on those early school mornings! With a little more effort & perseverance, Ben Tobitt believes “it is possible to convert younger pallets to ingredients they wouldn’t usually eat as he finds getting children involved in cooking also increases the chances of them eating what they made”.
Farmhouse operates on an open-door mindset where parents, teachers and the students themselves are welcome to meet in person to discuss all things food. “It is now our time to encourage children to eat Farm to Table produce, it is mainly about the freshness & quality of the produce, but children also need to be educated & mindful of food security & sustainability as their children will grow up in a much tougher world if we don’t take action now to be more self-sufficient.” says Ben
Ben’s Farmhouse is also offering meal boxes that contain carefully sourced & prepared ingredients. School meals have an impact on education, nutrition, health, agriculture, and food systems in addition to the food served on the plate. Every day of the week, vegan options and personalized boxes are available for year-round home delivery.