Dubai culinary classes combat bad diets as UAE obesity soars

Besides training chefs and housemaids, cooking schools in Dubai are also teaching adults and children about the benefits of a healthy diet.

Dubai residents participate in the Healthy Eating Cookery class at School of Culinary and Finishing Arts (Scafa) in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // Cookery schools are catering to the growing need to eat healthily as rates of obesity and diabetes soar.

The French School of Culinary and Finishing Arts (Scafa) has just opened in Dubai and is one of three cookery schools in the city.

As well as training chefs, it teaches adults and children about the benefits of a healthy diet.

Schools including the Jumeirah English Speaking School and the Sharjah American International School have sent students to Scafa, which is licensed by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the emirate’s education regulator. It is aiming to run summer schools, too.

“Saying we’re KHDA approved helps,” said Zaigham Haque, Scafa’s chief executive. “The schools can get the Ministry of Education approvals more easily.”

Francisco Araya, a chef at Scafa, said community education was a key part of their mission.

“In our kids’ classes we don’t say what foods the kids shouldn’t eat, but explain why they should make certain choices,” he said.

“For example, we’ll give them real chocolate and explain that dark chocolate contains antioxidants and is better for your body.”

Inger Houghton, head of nutrition at Scandinavian Health and Performance, has been giving lessons on healthy cooking to the maids and chefs of Emirati families.

“The main thing is helping them to vary their diets,” she said. “They need ideas. Often they have the meat and bread but need side dishes and ideas for what to do with vegetables.”

Adult diets tend not to be too unhealthy, Ms Houghton said, but  “what was worst was what they were giving the children”. She saw cupboards full of sugary products and diets lacking the nutrients and variety a growing child needs.

There was also a tendency to be unaware of the differences between good and bad fats.

Lateefa Al Mazrouei, an Emirati dietician, said such education was vital for the local population.

“Teaching the chefs is so important because they are the ones cooking for the Emirati families, not the housewives,” she said.

“Many Emiratis eat very westernised food now but there is a real need for education that focuses on local cuisine, too.

“They will eat cereal or toast for breakfast but then at lunch they will still eat local food.”

She said portion size was another area in which many Emiratis needed help.

“Even when they eat healthy food they don’t know how much to eat so they still end up putting on weight,” she said.