Dubai: A strong appetite for healthy lunch boxes has forged an unlikely community of residents in Dubai, following a pilot initiative that started out under a canopy of trees.
British expat Lisa Sherrington-Boyd, the brainchild behind the initiative, told Gulf News, “In May this year, over 150 families poured into Bounty Beets, a community café tucked away under the trees at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi over five weeks and a new community was formed based on healthy eating and happy families.”
Lisa said she had teamed up with café’s chef Holly Parnell, a finalist on the UK’s Masterchef TV show, to help create innovative menus for children. “No more dry chicken nuggets and boring chips; much more of hidden veggies and fruits served in everyday yummy ways. That’s what we were aiming at through free practical workshops,” she said.
But what started as a pilot between the two enthusiastic friends to help families tackle fussy eating exploded with queues at the door as a strong community was born, with the desire to find ways to tackle stressful meal times.
Come August, and the “Bounty Beets Meets Happy Families” has turned into a veritable date, a community outing for many families.
“I was thrilled to see mums waiting to get through the door during the pilot phase. Through my 30 years’ experience and daily visits to homes in Dubai, I know how hard families find it to feed their children every day. Chef Holly and I wanted to create an environment where we could tackle the issue of picky eating head on and get the children tasting recipes that the families could then cook at home,” said Lisa.
Over the five weeks that they ran the free project, she said she saw children she had worked with on fussy eating gobbling up beetroot pancakes and cheese sauces made from Zucchini. “I was amazed. It was the magic of the community feel,” claimed Lisa.
After every event, she even held a story time, sharing plates of free fruit around. “The children were reaching in to grab a range of fruits they had not tried before. The magic of creating the right environment for food adventurers of the future was thrilling to watch,” she added.
At last week’s meet up, around 400 people turned up to learn ways to make lunch boxes. “After all,” said Lisa, “even assuming a family has one child, they would be required to prepare at least 360 boxes (180 lunch boxes plus 180 snack boxes) in a year. Imagine cases where there are two or more children.”
One of the participants Mama Annissa said, “My anxiety levels were through the roof when Lisa said this! Especially because as a tired mum of two - and another one on the way - my creative juices are definitely at a low point so cheese sandwiches is all I’ve got in my locker."
And then I attended Bounty Meets where they showed us how it can be done. Simple pasta recipes that are full of goodness, easy to make, and guaranteed to be eaten by those little fussy munchkins. We made one of them this weekend and the kiddies loved getting involved. It didn’t even make it to the lunchbox, it was so tasty.”
Dipti Bhatt, another participant, said, “As a first-time mum, I remember coming to Dubai not knowing any new mums or anyone to reach out to for support. Thanks to social media, I found out about the Happy Families event hosted by Lisa. I loved learning new exciting recipes by Chef Holly.
"It was lovely seeing others attend every session like me, too, and this was a testament that the Happy Families events are an amazing way to bring the community together. I am already excited to attend the next one.”
Lisa said the first prioroity is to see that kids are adequately fed, with variety coming later. “Stick to old favourites when the term begins, then get adventurous,” she advised.
Besides practical and interactive workshops and recipe demos, the community meets also host carefully curated play and interactive experiences to provide solutions for family life challenges. There’s a children’s sing along session and many other activities too.