“What’s in your thali?” menu labelling initiative takes off

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A unique one-of-a-kind menu labelling initiative called “What’s in your thali” launched this week. This initiative is to help local residents make informed decisions about their eating habits, specifically in a faith-based communal meal setting.

“What’s in your thali”, which takes its name from a South Asian platter used to serve food, is a project of the Healthy Communities Initiative (HCI), an innovative partnership led by the Central West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), Region of Peel and William Osler Health System, alongside the City of Brampton and local school boards. HCI’s mandate is to address population health by working in collaboration with a diverse group of community partners across a variety of settings – including faith settings – to promote a simple prescription for change known as “5-2-1-0”. Living “5-2-1-0” means: eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, limiting screen time to two hours per day, being physically active for at least one hour per day, and consuming zero sugar-sweetened beverages throughout the day. The need for this collaborative effort is underscored by the fact that the Central West LHIN has the highest rate of diabetes in the province.

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One of the largest Sikh gurdwaras in Canada, attracting congregants from across the GTA, the Ontario Khalsa Darbar (OKD) is the first gurdwara in the country to implement a menu labelling initiative for communal dining. As aligned with Sikh principles, OKD hosts a free “langar” (community kitchen) every day throughout the year, which serves meals to all people, regardless of their faith or social background. The gurdwara serves over 3,000 free meals per day, and even more during celebratory or special events. In total, more than 1.5 million meals are served annually.
“Working in partnership with local health system leaders and community partners has been an exciting opportunity to develop this innovative initiative,” said Jaskaran Singh Sandhu, Executive Director of the World Sikh Organization of Canada. “Menu labelling langar is likely a first in the country and possibly in the world, and demonstrates how health and wellbeing can be promoted in creative and resourceful ways.”

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On menu boards posted in the gurdwara, members of the public will see important caloric information (developed with the support of accredited health professionals from the Stop Diabetes Foundation) about the meals they consume as part of langar offerings and routinely-offered tea and snacks. This information will reflect the exact recipes and methods of preparation that are used in the gurdwara kitchen, and the calorie counts on display will be similar to those seen at chain restaurants across Ontario.

“Traditional simple meals served through langar – which often consist of grains, lentils and vegetable curries – are actually quite healthy and nutritious when eaten in the right proportions,” said Dr. Harpreet Bajaj, a community endocrinologist, founder of the “Stop Diabetes” Foundation, and member of HCI’s Steering Committee. “Through these newly developed menu boards, we can easily see that sweets and fried snacks are often where the sangat consume a large number of additional calories and unhealthy items.”

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Informing members of the public on the nutritional value of their meals is the first step in supporting positive healthy behaviours. Over the coming months, registered dietitians and kinesiologists will host workshop sessions at the gurdwara that focus on healthy eating and physical activity. These activities will complement the menu labeling initiative by supporting local residents make and sustain healthy choices in the immediate and long-term. -CINEWS

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