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Good Taste Meets Good Health in SIT’s New Cookbook

 

It is not every day that you see students throwing lumps of fishball paste around in a laboratory.

Although it may have seemed so, this was not the scene of a school food fight, and the food-lobbers were not delinquents. They were Dietetics and Nutrition students from the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) who were making fishballs for a healthy noodle dish in their kitchen laboratory.

The recipe was just one of 35 that seven student chefs tested for the university's new cookbook over their mid-year holiday last year.

Launched in March this year, SiT & EAT: A Healthier Asian Cookbook features a menu of familiar local delights and is the university’s first retail product, something that Associate Professor Verena Tan, who led the project, is proud of.

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SiT & EAT: A Healthier Asian Cookbook that features a menu of familiar local delights. (SIT Photo)

“This cookbook is the first thing to come out of SIT to be sold to the public, and thankfully, it has garnered good support so far,” said the Programme Leader of SIT’s Dietetics and Nutrition degree programme. But producing it was far from simple.

The idea first came about in 2022, when A/Prof Tan realised that she had compiled a list of recipes long enough to open a restaurant. These recipes came from kitchen lab sessions, where students came up with innovative ways of recreating Asian dishes with healthier ingredients.

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A/Prof Verena Tan believes there are innovative strategies to help people eat healthily. (SIT Photo)

“I always make my students submit their recipes to me, and over time, my collection grew, and I thought it was such a waste to have all these recipes just saved on my laptop,” she said.

So, she began her quest to publish a cookbook, with a one-year deadline ahead of her.

“We had a few ideas to pitch it to those with medical conditions or to children, but we quickly decided that our first cookbook should be for the general adult population who want to eat healthier,” she recalled.

Assembling a Team of Sous Chefs

However, the professor knew that she and her busy team would not be able to test the 35-long shortlist of recipes on their own. So, she recruited Year 2 and Year 3 Dietetics and Nutrition students to be her kitchenhands. “They worked tirelessly throughout their six-week trimester break, cooking all 35 recipes to make sure they could be replicated using household kitchen equipment and appliances, were workable, nutritionally healthy and tasted good,” recounted A/Prof Tan.

From hearty fishball noodles to A/Prof Tan’s favourite recipe of bandung kueh salat, the students tested each recipe, eventually eliminating two which were not feasible. After two months of whipping up delicious dishes, the team was left with 33 healthy and tasty recipes.

But you eat with your eyes before your mouth, as they say, and A/Prof Tan knew that high-quality photos of the dishes were as crucial as the recipes. The fee for a professional photographer, however, was steep, so the resourceful lecturer turned to her reliable students.

“Out of my seven students, two had done food photography before. So, they shot the photos, which turned out very well,” she said, adding that the photos also received commendation from the publisher.

With recipes in and photos taken, it was time to bring all the ingredients together. After a three-month wait for the publisher to layout the book and subsequent rounds of edits, the cookbook was finally completed. A thousand copies were printed, just in time for Dietitians Day which fell on 13 March this year.

“We got to launch our book on Dietitians Day, which was quite special, and managed to sell many copies to staff and students who bought the book for their friends and family,” said A/Prof Tan.
 

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SIT’s Dietetics and Nutrition students who worked on the SiT & Eat cookbook featuring healthy recipes (from left) Cheryl Leow, Baheera Ali and Brenna Tan. (SIT Photo)

Contributing to a Healthier Nation

For her, the cookbook is more than a passion project – she hopes it can help change how Singaporeans eat. “We wanted to provide healthier recipes for Asian meals that people usually eat at hawker centres so that they can cook them at home. The hope is that this cookbook can be a small piece in the big jigsaw puzzle of getting people to eat more healthily,” she said.

This vision also underpins SIT’s Dietetics and Nutrition programme. The first and only local undergraduate degree programme of its kind, the course hopes to train future dietitians to work in Singapore’s healthcare sector.

According to A/Prof Tan, dietitians need to understand the complexities of food, both its nutritional value and taste, to advise patients on improving their diets to manage their conditions. Clinical attachments to various healthcare institutions offer students practical experience across all domains of dietetics practice (individual clinical case management, community and public health nutrition, and food service management). Such clinical placements prepare students for real-world clinical practice and build up their confidence in clinical skills.

“We want to ensure students are grounded in understanding local food and how to cater to patients' local taste buds,” she explained.

“With a growing elderly population in Singapore, we need a more sustainable stream of local dietitians, and this programme aims to provide that and contribute in a small way to a healthier Singapore.”

So, if you are a fan of Asian food but crave healthier options, get your copy of SiT & EAT: A Healthier Asian Cookbook on Amazon today!

 
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