Facebook chatbot, Ginger – SA Mother’s new besty!

An Internet chatbot named, Ginger, is bringing about a new wave of interest in children’s eating behaviour and habits by targeting mothers and caregivers as agents of change.

Ginger, who was recently brought to life by innovative pharmaceutical firm, Pharma Dynamics, in an effort to curb SA’s high rates of obesity and stunting (as a result of under- or malnutrition) among school-aged children, has already gained a strong following of mothers intent on making a change.

Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – a pharmaceutical firm that advocates for prevention over cure – says the campaign specifically targets mothers, as primary caregivers, since they influence children’s eating behaviours in a variety of ways.

“Mothers actively make food choices for the family and serve as role models for dietary choices and patterns. Children also learn about food by observing the eating behaviours modelled by their parents. Research reveals that when children see their parents eating a healthy selection of fruit and vegetables every day, children are likely to display the same behaviour. The ‘do-as-I-do’ approach was found to be far more effective than the ‘do-as-I-say’ style of teaching children about nutrition.

“However, since a high percentage of SA mothers have to work and as a consequence, young children are routinely being fed by someone else, childcare settings should provide appropriate food to meet a child’s nutritional requirements. Similarly, the school environment can also help to teach children about healthy dietary patterns and behaviours.

“A person’s eating habits are typically formed during childhood, therefore when healthier meal options are offered at home and school it’s likely to lead to healthier nutritional choices throughout children’s entire lifetimes,” notes Jennings.

Obesity is one of SA’s fastest-growing public health issues with almost two in ten children overweight or obese, while stunting, as a result of malnutrition or under-nutrition, also remains a problem in nearly 20% of 2 to 5-year-old children in the country.

To combat both obesity and stunting in children, Ginger, is actively engaging mothers and caregivers via Facebook around planning healthy breakfasts, school lunches, snacks and suppers on a shoestring budget. These meals are all based on the more than 100 recipes from the Cooking from the Heart cookbook series of which Pharma Dynamics is the custodian.

Over the past five years, GPs and specialists have used Cooking from the Heart as a valuable resource in guiding patients at risk of chronic diseases of lifestyle, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes on how to make healthy eating a part of healthy living, but now Pharma Dynamics has made it even easier for mothers and caregivers to use the resource as it was intended by way of the chatbot.

Several moms explain how the Cooking from the Heart chatbot has made healthy cooking a breeze:

Roxanne Potgieter, mother of a toddler and new born in Cape Town, explains that she’s always at a loss as to what do with all the leftovers, but that planning meals that give ‘good-for-you’ leftovers make it easier with Ginger’s help. Plus, Ginger has helped me save on my monthly grocery bill!”

Bianca van der Westhuizen, mother of one-year-old son, says she has a penchant for salt and never imagined not salting her food, until she crossed paths with Ginger who has given her plenty of practical ‘swap it’ tips, such as replacing salt with fresh herbs and spices or lemon for flavour. “I can now prepare tasty, salt-free meals not only for my young one, but for the whole family.”

Riana Venter, grandmother and guardian of three boys in Centurion, says Ginger takes the thinking out of cooking. “I’ve often stood in the grocery isle agonising over what I’m going to make for supper during the week, but now Ginger does the thinking for me. She provides me with a weekly shopping list and advises on how to adapt meals based on my family’s individual needs.”

Jennings says often mothers just don’t know where to start when it comes to healthy cooking.

“Someone’s idea of a healthy meal might be completely different to another’s, but Ginger is there to guide mothers. Each meal that she’ll recommend has been tested and approved by a number of nutritionists from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA and carry’s the organisation’s stamp of approval. Ginger can be thought of as your very own personal chef and will help mothers and caregivers throughout the country to develop confidence in their ability to prepare healthy meals, while ensuring minimal wastage.”

Heleen Meyer, well-known healthy food consultant and author of a string of healthy eating recipe books, including the Cooking from the Heart series, can vouch for the great tasting recipes.

“Many people think of healthy eating as boring and use this as an excuse to choose less healthy options instead. Eating right may require some self-control, but it’s about eating naturally derived food that is balanced, includes variety, is tasty and most importantly, fuels the body to give you the strength you need to carry out your daily activities.”

In the wake of ‘back-to-school’ season, Meyer has teamed up with Pharma Dynamics again to create a strong narrative around revamping school lunch boxes.

She advocates that school lunches should set a healthy example. “Children generally become activists for healthy eating when they learn about and experience healthy eating at home. However, in homes where learners don’t have access to healthy foods, schools should be a place where they can count on eating healthily since many of them may be eating the majority of their calories at school.

“Despite government’s efforts, there is still plenty of unhealthy food available at tuck shops. It’s rare that you will find fruit and vegetables occupying half of the school tuck shop, which should be encouraged. It’s not that children refuse to eat healthily, it just boils down to how it is presented and the choices that parents allow both at school and at home.”

Here are two of her must-try back-to-school lunches that kids are guaranteed to eat:

Recipe 1 – Fresh fruit and peanut butter dip

(Recipe from Cooking from the heart 2)

(YouTube video link, Kosblik: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oH7-5fLdM8)

Serves 4

This peanut butter dip makes snacking on fruit even yummier! The peanut butter adds a slightly sweeter flavour to the yoghurt, perfect for those late afternoon munchies.

3 tbsp (45 ml) peanut butter

½ cup (125 ml) plain low-fat yoghurt

4 apples or pears, cut in wedges

1. Place peanut butter in a bowl and mix until slightly softened. Stir in the yoghurt and mix well until smooth.

2. Serve peanut butter dip with fruit wedges as a mid-afternoon snack. Pack the dip in a small container with a lid for lunch box to enjoy when that sweet-tooth craving hits.

Recipe 2 – Tuna and corn cakes

(Recipe from Cooking from the heart 2)

(YouTube video link, Kosblik: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfuDG5OLmAw)

Makes about 25 tuna cakes

These easy and tasty little fish cakes are perfect to get kids to eat more veggies – especially at lunchtime. You could add different flavours or spices to the mixture, such as paprika or dried mixed herbs. For a spicier flavour add a pinch of cayenne pepper.

1 x 170 g tin tuna in water, drained

1 x 410 g tin cream style sweetcorn

⅓ cup (80 ml) frozen peas, rinsed

1 cup (250 ml) wholewheat flour

½ tsp (2,5 ml) baking powder

2 eggs, beaten

2 tbsp (30 ml) chopped fresh parsley

¼ tsp (1,2 ml) salt

1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice

black pepper to taste

2 tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or canola oil for frying

1. Place all the ingredients, except the oil, in a large mixing bowl. Mix until well combined.

2. Heat half of the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Fry small spoonfuls of the mixture on both sides until golden brown and cooked.

3. Spoon out and drain on paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the mixture and a little extra oil if necessary.

4. Serve as part of a lunch box with lemon wedges, sweet chilli sauce, tomato sauce or chutney. Carrot sticks, blanched broccoli florets and wedges of fruit like apple and pear will make for a more filling lunch.

“Helping children to establish good eating habits will not only help them to be more alert in class and retain information, but could go a long way in staving off chronic diseases of lifestyle, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cancer in the future. Ultimately, healthy food equals better health, better grades and a happier child,” says Meyer.

To sign up to the Cooking from the Heart, chatbot, visit the Cooking from the heart SA Facebook page and opt in to the campaign or for more of Meyer’s fuss-free school lunches, download any of the free recipes via www.cookingfromtheheart.co.za