Tuesday 21 February 2012

Chicken rice, no skin? Yes, at this 'healthier' coffee shop

HPB to open 19 more such eateries offering less fatty food by year end
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2012

THE Health Promotion Board (HPB) opened the first healthier coffee shop yesterday now that more people are dining out and obesity rates are rising.

Food King Coffee House in Bukit Batok East Avenue 5 has eight stalls that all serve dishes made with ingredients such as brown rice, wholegrain noodles and less fattening oil.

For instance, a standard order of chicken rice will come without skin and with brown rice mixed in. This means it has 500 calories, compared with about 600 for a regular plate of chicken rice.

Dishes that have been modified will have their calorie count displayed on the menu boards. This is part of the HPB's Healthier Coffee Shop Initiative.

Its chief executive Ang Hak Seng said there will be at least another 19 such coffee shops by the end of the year.

He said many of the stall owners at the new Bukit Batok coffee shop were concerned that switching to healthier ingredients would raise the cost and reduce the taste. So HPB linked stall owners with suppliers who agreed to sell bulk-ordered healthier ingredients at the same price as regular ones. It also advised cooks on how to reduce the fat and salt in their dishes without compromising on taste.

Mr Ang said it had to convince stallholders the change would not hurt their business. 'Many of our food establishments are selling less healthy food, therefore those that sell healthy food will attract Singaporeans who want to adopt a healthy lifestyle and this number is growing,' he said.

Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports said the number of Singaporeans dining out was a concern.

'We may be too busy to cook and buy food regularly for ourselves and families from neighbourhood coffee shops, which traditionally sell less healthy fare,' said the MP for Jurong GRC, who was guest of honour at yesterday's opening. 'By working with coffee shops to offer healthier options, we help those among us who don't have time to cook benefit from healthy and nutritious meals.'

Mr Eddie Lee, 30, who owns Kelai Chicken Rice at the coffee shop, said he had his reservations at first. For example, brown rice takes longer to cook. 'But the younger customers said that they prefer it when I mix brown and white rice,' he said. Since then, he has noticed an increase in younger customers.

Even American food joint Botak Jones has jumped onboard. This particular outlet at Food King Coffee House has two dishes - the tuna salad and caesar salad with grilled salmon - that are below 500 calories.

HPB will be working with Botak Jones to push out a healthy menu at 12 of its other eateries. 'Not everyone will think that all the food we sell is healthy. Eating healthy is also about using natural ingredients,' said the chain's founder Bernie Utchenik.

Customers at the coffee shop welcomed the change. 'It's not as oily as some of the other places,' said Madam Jessie Ng, 42, a housewife. 'But there needs to be regular checks done so that the cooks don't revert to their old ways of cooking.'

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