SEAMEO RECFON and the Centre for Transformative Nutrition and Health of the International Medical University (IMU) of Malaysia launched the first Online Training on Healthy School Canteen in Southeast Asia on 12 July 2021 for school heads, teachers and canteen operators in the region.

Sixty-eight participants from 23 primary and secondary schools from seven SEAMEO member countries are attending the course now.  The countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Indonesia.

The 7-week course, which will culminate on 26 August 2021, generally aims to improve the knowledge and basic skills of the participants on food quality and implementation of healthy school canteen.  In the long run, this initiative envisions to transform school canteens  in the region to be reputable food establishments that contribute to the alleviation of foodborne illnesses and improving nutrition status of students.

During the opening program, RECFON Director Prof. Muchtaruddin Mansyur welcomed and congratulated the participants for joining the training.  He acknowledged the valuable contribution of IMU in developing and organizing the course, as well as the support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology of Indonesia and the SEAMEO Secretariat.  He emphasized the important role of school canteen as a key component in RECFON’s Nutrition Goes to School (NGTS) Program towards forming healthy eating habits among children while at school. He encouraged the training participants to apply the knowledge and experiences they would gain during the training to improve their school canteens and become role models in their  countries.

On behalf of IMU, Dr Yang Wai Yew, Head of Department for Nutrition and Dietetics, expressed her appreciation to SEAMEO RECFON for inviting her university to collaborate in this training course.  “This is a very important initiative as the health of nations begins at school to instill the right eating habits through foods served at the canteen,” she said.  She also recognized that a healthy school canteen is one of the most efficient means to prevent and reduce serious health problems among students and bridge education achievement gap. “School-aged children are leaders of tomorrow, and schools are the best platform to inculcate healthy lifestyles including good eating habits,” she added.

The training  was officially opened by SEAMEO Secretariat Director, Dr. Ethel  Agnes Pascua Valenzuela. Recognizing the malnutrition status among Southeast Asian children due to unhealthy dietary behaviours, she stressed, in her keynote speech, the relevance of school canteen in improving student’s eating and sanitation habits and boosting their resiliency to diseases by providing healthy and sanitized food choices.   She commended SEAMEO RECFON for organizing the training as well as forging collaborations with SEAMEO Centres in five SEAMEO member countries to produce a reference material on Healthy School Canteen Effective Policies and Best Practices to facilitate teaching-learning of teachers and students on this matter. “I wish that after this training,  the participants would become agents of transformation in their respective schools to improve their school canteen services for better health and nutrition of their students,” she concluded.

The training consists of seven sessions on the following topics:  Balanced nutrition and meal guide; Safe food preparation in school canteen; Introduction to Halal; Healthier options of food preparation; and Implementation and management of healthy school canteen. Both synchronous and asynchonous methods will be used to deliver the sessions.  Each school team is expected to turn in an action plan to improve their school canteen as a major requirement of completing the course.

The training team includes Dr. Judhiastuty Februhartanty, Dr. Dwi Nastiti Iswarawanti, Ms. Evi Ermayani, MSc, and Ms. Arienta Sudibya, MSc from SEAMEO RECFON in collaboration with  Dr Ng Ai Kah, and Pn Mary Easaw, MSc from IMU.