Healthy alternatives for MPs

2011-05-28 00:00

YOU needn’t be a fat cat when you become a member of Parliament, but the temptation is great.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi rapped MPs over the knuckles for their bad diet and lack of exercise, and added that Parliament needs to change its menus.

Yet it is possible to eat in Parliament’s three restaurants without putting on weight. Among the dishes served are salads, several fish dishes, a chicken-and-vegetable stew, roast and marinated sirloin and five types of vegetable soup.

MPs who count calories would probably avoid the roast lamb neck, lamb curry and the roast potatoes served with some of the bigger meals, but for them the menu has a range of healthy options such as grilled skinless chicken breast with steamed vegetables, steamed fish, brinjal curry and oven-baked mushrooms with seasonal vegetables.

However, the biggest threat to MPs’ weight lurks at the committee meetings, where they spend by far the most of their time. Here large snack platters are served before the start of meetings and during tea or lunch breaks.

On offer are fruit platters, pastries, scones, muffins, croissants, biscuits, small cakes and cheese-and-biscuit platters. Sandwiches with fillings such as tuna, egg, cheese and tomato or cold meats are also served, and sometimes hot snacks such as chops and deep-fried chicken.

Elienne Horwitz, a Cape Town-based dietician, said too many starchy, processed snacks would make your sugar levels spike and then drop dramatically, which will leave you feeling tired and hungry. “And the last thing we would want is for people to feel sleepy in meetings.”

Horwitz says the best snacks to have in between meals are fruit with low-fat yoghurt or wholegrain biscuits with low-fat cheese — “and be mindful of the portion size”.

The snack platters at committee meetings are so large that there is usually food left over at the end of a committee meeting.

Mike Waters, the DA’s shadow health minister, said he agreed with Dr Motsoaledi’s assessment of the MPs.

“If you look at the average size of MPs as a group, you can see we are not eating very healthily. The food at the restaurants are not that fattening, but the food at the committee meetings, the scones with cream and the croissants with all sorts of fillings, are very fattening.

“You have to ask why are MPs fed to go to committees. The food at committees should simply be stopped. Parliament can save a lot of money that way.”

But ANC MP André Gaum said: “Not all the food served at committee meetings is unhealthy.

“There’s usually also fruit available, but the meats and pastries aren’t the healthiest. It might be a good idea to increase the options where fruit and vegetables are concerned.

“The health minister is absolutely correct that not only MPs, but people in general should look after their health by eating healthily and getting exercise.”

A parliamentary spokesperson would not say whether or not Motsoaledi’s comments have been conveyed to Parliament’s catering management.

“As you can see, there are plenty of healthy options on the menu,” she said.

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