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Winning team members Maha Fouad Abdullah, Fatima Ali and Shahar Abdul Halim at the closing ceremony of the 3rd edition of “Junior Chef” in Sharjah Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Sharjah: Eight groups of three students aged between 11 and 14 were awarded with medals and cash prizes of Dh2,000 each for winning the finals of the third Junior Chef contest organised by the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHaP) on Thursday.

The two-week contest running from July 22 to August 8 at Sharjah’s MoHAP training centre saw 80 girls from UAE schools compete. Out of them, 24 were shortlisted and divided into eight groups of three.

Dr Amin Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary of the Health and Licensing Sector at MoHAP said such initiatives were aimed at changing the behavioural response of children to food and educating them on the importance of a well-balanced diet, which is the key to controlling childhood obesity.

Noor Khamis Ali, deputy director of health education and promotion at MoHAP, told Gulf News: “This contest is organised as part of the larger umbrella initiative — Ma’kom (balanced diet) — of our department. We are focusing on providing young children with the tools, skills and knowledge of good health and nutrition by directly inspiring them to cook healthy food. Our target is to reduce childhood obesity to 12 per cent as per the goals of UAE vision 2021.”

MoHAP launched a campaign through social media, promotional videos and fliers sent to schools and has received an overwhelming response.

“Our two-week programme had three aspects,” added Ali. “During the first week, we focused on providing basic training to the participants on the importance of health, nutrition, balanced diets, healthy cooking methods and quality of ingredients. We had chefs and nutritionists participating in the programme,” she said.

In addition to this, the initiative had a cooking workshop for children run by trained chefs and finally children were taken to visit supermarkets to ensure they were able to read labels and shop for the right ingredients. In the final phase, 24 students in groups of three were required to cook a recipe of their choice.

“Our panel — that comprised a chef, a nutritionist and individuals from the community — judged the participants,” said Ali. “We took into account the method of cooking, the quality of ingredients, the balance of nutrition and above all good taste and flavour of the dish to choose the winners.”

Noor Al Shamsi, 14, from one of the groups, said: “This programme was an eye-opener for me as I learnt how important it was to shop for the right ingredients, pay attention to the quality of food, read expiry dates and labels while shopping and create a dish that is tasty and nutritious. I urge all youngsters to give up junk food and choose good health,” she added.

Meet the winning team

Cohort 7 of the eight groups, comprising Maha Fouad Abdullah, 14, Shahar Abdul Halim, 11 and Fathima Ali, 11, all from different Sharjah schools won best junior chefs.

“We cooked a vegetarian pasta dish and a salad,” said Abdullah. “We were particular about choosing the right ingredients, included lots of fresh vegetables and used non-processed cooking medium to create our dish,” she said.

Fathima Ali added: “We took care to keep the meal low-calorie and avoided using too much cream, cheese that people use to make the sauce. We made an arabiatta sauce with tomatoes.”

Halim said she paid particular attention to salad and made sure to use lots of greens and a healthy dressing.

“Pasta is a favourite for many kids and our cooking proved that what we made could not only stay high on taste, but equally good in nutrition.”