A former fine-dining chef has started a new cafe in a Dubai school to encourage healthy eating among children.
Chef Ben Tobitt, who previously managed popular restaurants for Sarood Hospitality such as The Noodle House, Pierchic, Flow, The Duck Hook, Perry & Blackwelder’s, and others, has now launched the Farm to School initiative under his own business, Ben’s Farmhouse.
His first project is in Lycee Francais International Georges Pompidou, a French-curriculum school in Dubai.
“The idea is to catch them young. If they are exposed to healthy and sustainable food choices from a young age, I firmly believe that chances of them eating well as adults are much higher,” Mr Tobitt told The National.
He said school meals are an important part of a child's diet.
Mr Tobitt said he and his team of 22 chefs "have re-branded the school canteen and the snack kiosk, and have introduced a new menu that mostly uses locally-procured vegetables, fruit and herbs".
"Artificial sweeteners, high-calorie snacks and fried items are off the shelves as we only use natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup," he said.
“Snacks like chocolate muffins or cookies have also shrunk in size and calories. What we make weigh 50 to 60 grams while the ones outside are 120 grams at least."
He said the team is also including vegetables in the form of sauce or puree that can go with pasta or rice.
“That will make sure children eat vegetables but in a more appealing form," he said.
Children can also buy salads, wraps, ciabattas, pastries, snacks and fresh beverages from the canteen.
Vegan cookies, banana breads, Californian poke bowls, cooked beef bourguignon and Thai curry are the new items on the menu, which Mr Tobitt said will help to “change things up and keeps things interesting for the pupils”.
"We want to offer children the same quality of food that you would expect at an upscale restaurant,” Mr Tobitt said.
He said the 557 square metre school kitchen gives the team enough space to cook oven-fresh snacks and meals. The team is also supplying lunch boxes to the school’s other branches in Oud Metha and Sharjah.
Mr Tobitt said his project is not just about eating healthy meals.
“It is also an educational journey," he said. "We are introducing farming lessons in the school. There will also be site visits to local farms to show them the importance of supporting local farmers.
"We want them to grow up understanding the benefit of freshness, price, availability and reduced carbon footprint."