BCHack19 Project Showcase: Health for Thought’s Ten Chefs of Aljunied
Imagine Auntie Rosy. Like every Singaporean parent, Auntie Rosy loves her kids and wants them to grow up strong and healthy. However, with a hectic schedule, shoestring budget, and with young children who, like most kids their age, cringe at broccoli and spinach, Auntie Rosy finds it difficult to fix healthy meals for her kids.
How can children from low-income families like Auntie Rosy’s get adequate nutrition? This was the question that Health for Thought tackled over the course of six weeks as part of WISE’s inaugural Behaviour Change Hackathon. The five participants selected to this team comprised five youths aged 22 to 24 – Adeline, Fajar, Jun Ying, Soon Guan, and Yee Ting. The team was supported by project partner Halo Health Asia, a local non-profit focused on improving consumers’ food decisions.
Investigations in Bedok North
To understand the actual sentiments of “Auntie Rosy”, Health for Thought delved into the Bedok North neighbourhood of Aljunied Group Representation Constituency in the eastern region of Singapore. The team approached 20 households and surveyed caregivers who were currently taking care of children aged 7 to 12. They sought to understand the different factors which motivated the caregiver’s grocery purchases and how this, in turn, affected the fruit and vegetable consumption that children ate.
One of the recurring themes captured throughout the interview was that children’s preferences greatly influenced what the caregivers purchase, even if this conflicted with the caregivers’ understanding of the children’s nutritional needs.
“Kids can be fickle… So I buy according to what they want,” an interviewee shared.
“Sometimes, if I buy a different vegetable, my daughter doesn’t want to eat,” said one caregiver. “Even after we advise her. We don’t want to force her to eat it.”
How do norms affect purchase behaviour?
Perceived social norms can greatly affect and motivate the behaviour of an individual. The team asked interviewees whether they felt it was a norm for other caregivers in Singapore to purchase fruits and vegetables for their child’s consumption.
They found out that 85.7% of caregivers who believed that only a small minority of other caregivers would buy an adequate amount of vegetables for their child’s consumption would buy vegetables. This means that if a particular caregiver thought that other caregivers did not buy enough vegetables for their kids, it would be very likely they themselves would not purchase vegetables regularly for their kids. In short, people had a tendency to think that they were behaving just like everybody else!
Caregivers were further differentiated by their awareness of how well they were feeding their children. For instance, about half of the interviewees who were not giving their kids at least one serving of fruits or vegetables per meal thought that they were meeting recommended servings.
The team’s investigations enabled them to identify behavioural determinants that had a significant influence on the fruit and vegetable purchasing habits of caregivers. The youth knew that if their proposed idea were to be any effective, it would have to align with children’s eating preferences, change perceptions of norms, and target caregivers’ grocery choices.
Ten Chefs of Aljunied
Health for Thought eventually came up with the idea of a healthy cooking competition to be held in the Aljunied neighbourhood. The Ten Chefs of Aljunied Competition would involve caregivers cooking affordable and healthy meals for a panel of judges consisting of kids living within the community, as well as a nutritionist.
The competition would serve a number of purposes:
- Generate buzz to show that other caregivers within the community were purchasing and cooking healthy food for their children
- Collect recipes that were affordable, healthy and tasty for children, hence showing that it was possible to cook a cheap yet healthy meal
- Involve the community through recipe-sharing and neighbourly support
A caregiver-chef in the running would be tasked to make a meal containing one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetable, without MSG, and with low sugar and salt. You can only use basic cooking equipment and a limited budget for your ingredients. To win, you’ll have to conquer the stringent tastebuds of the kids on the judging panel and be “nutritionist-approved”, meaning that the recipe should fulfil health standards. Are you up for it?
Following the competition, a recipe booklet would be compiled from the recipes created by contestants. A Happy Healthy Corner (see illustration above) would be created in the supermarket where ingredients surrounding a featured recipe, rotated weekly, would be made available for purchase. Expect fresh cauliflower, corn, and lemon to be on sale if a zesty roasted cauliflower soup’s the recipe for the week! Team members said that through the Happy Healthy Corner, they hoped to provide shoppers with bite-sized information about nutrition, healthy cooking, and so change the shopping experience.
How would they sustain the community’s engagement with healthy eating? How can they know whether the project has succeeded? Can they replicate it in other neighbourhoods? These were the questions the team further grappled with.
The situation of the fictional Auntie Rosy is one that hectic Singaporean parents can probably relate to. Good nutrition is essential for children’s health and well-being. Where circumstances make it difficult for caregivers to provide their kids with healthy meals, an initiative like Health for Thought’s can help to improve decision-making, ease the process of shopping and cooking, and expand community resources.
Health for Thought has since passed their proposal on to their project partner. We look forward to where Halo Health Asia will take their ideas!
Interested in the detailed findings from Health for Thought’s research? We will be releasing the project report in the near future. Stay tuned! The Behaviour Change Hackathon was powered by National Youth Council’s YOUTHx grant and the Central Singapore Central Development Council’s Do-Good Grant.
✍️ Teenli Tan