The kitchen is the heart of our home

As food for the family is prepared in the kitchen it has an important role to play in the lives of families. Nothing warms the heart of a husband like the smell of dinner cooking as he walks in from a hard day’s work. Besides, having a meal together can bring the family closer.

Unfortunately times have changed, cooking and eating together among family members is no longer the norm for many families. As more women are working outside their homes, cooking for the family is no longer done on a regular basis.

Food is plentiful, cheap and easily available in Malaysia. There are the night markets, hawkers, and  fast-food restaurants, while 24-hour eateries offer chapatti and ginger tea for anyone feeling hungry at three in the morning.

These commercialised meals pose serious health problems for consumers. For example they are high in fat, sugar and salt and are often prepared in unhygienic condition.

Malaysians have good reasons to curb the widespread use of fats and sugars in local food as it has one of the highest rates of diabetes, strokes and heart disease in Southeast Asia. In 2000, 7.6% of Malaysians over the age of 20, or 1.82 million people, were diabetic in a country of nearly 24 million people, according to the World Health Organisation.

Experts blame rising affluence, a sedentary lifestyle and a growing trend of working mothers for the rise in health problems. Generally Malaysians are eating more and eating higher-calorie food.

According to government statistics more than two-thirds of Malaysians aged more than 18 do not exercise. 54% of the adult population is either obese or overweight, compared to only 24.1% 10 years ago. As a result 7 out of 10 Malaysian adults suffer from chronic diseases.

Diabetes and end stage renal failure is a serious health problem in Malaysia. It is estimated that there are 13,000 kidney patients undergoing dialysis and that every year 2,500 people join the ranks of end-stage renal failure patients.

Another major health concern is that four out of five people with diabetes will die of heart disease (the number 1 killer in the country). Six new cases of stroke occur every hour in Malaysia.

Surveys have shown that for every two known diabetics, there is at least one more who never know of having the disease (and by extension, may never seek treatment) until irreversible complications set in.

Worse still, Type 2 diabetes is seen as no longer a disease of middle or old age – children as young as 10 years old suffering from diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) are not an uncommon sight nowadays.

Doctors found that the young diabetics are usually obese, and their condition could be traced to eating too much unhealthy food and having a sedentary lifestyle. According to the survey, Type 2 diabetes is more apparent in people aged between 18 and 29, however there are also children below 10 years inflicted by the disease.

A senior consultant pediatrician said that “The children’s bad dietary habits of eating burgers, nuggets, fried chicken, fries and carbonated drinks are contributing factors to obesity. Long hours of homework, watching television and playing computer games added to the problem.”

High sugar intake (which also causes obesity) among Malaysians is one of the contributing factors to the high incidence of diabetes. We consume 26 teaspoons of sugar a day and are the eighth highest sugar users in the world.

In spite of campaigns by the government to educate the public to lead a healthy lifestyle the health of our nation has deteriorated over the years. The number of people inflicted with non -communicable diseases such as diabetes, is escalating amongst the population.

It is time to find a more holistic approach to solve the problem and the answer lies in the kitchen of every home. Nothing can match the food cooked at home, as one can make a healthy choice of the ingredients.

In view of the deteriorating health conditions of Malaysians, the Consumers Association of Penang calls on the Ministry of Education to introduce cooking classes in schools irrespective of gender. Students should be thought to cook in so that they will have the skills to feed their family healthy meals.

Those unaccustomed to cooking everyday initially find the task daunting. However, the following tips will help make cooking easier and more enjoyable-.

Plan meals – it is very important to plan out menus in advance. It may be just a few days or it can be a couple of weeks in advance. Know exactly what you are making for the next day. Keep your meals simple and use common (i.e. easily available) ingredients.

Make a master pantry list – once you develop simple meals with common ingredients you can stock up your pantry with these items. Keep a running list of these items and how much you have on hand. Try to buy these items when they are on sale but watch out for the expiry date.

Make a master grocery list – this takes time in the beginning but saves time later on. Make a list of the common weekly and monthly items you buy. When it is time to grocery shop take note of the items that you need to buy.

Keep a price sheet – know what you are spending on food items. Using a small notebook jot down prices as you shop and then keeping a master list on the computer. This is a must for the budget! Use the freezer – When cooking a meal try making a double batch and freeze one for a stressful day when there are not enough time to cook.

This will prevent you from running out to fast food and restaurants. Keep the kitchen clean – It is so much more motivating to work in a clean kitchen rather than a cluttered one. Clean up as you work.

Letter to the Editor, 25 July 2011