Summer is upon us, and teenagers are on the loose. As they are away from their school canteens or parent-selected meals, they have more freedom to eat. It's likely their nutritional choices for the six-week break will range from fast foods lacking in dietary value to snacks laden with salt, sugar and fat.
But arming kids with ideas for quick, tasty and healthy food fixes might help wean them off those unhealthy dietary habits.
Vicky Cheng, executive chef at Liberty Exchange Kitchen & Bar, has a message for teenagers who have never attempted much in the kitchen. Cheng says they should not worry about how the food turns out.
'Experiment,' he says. 'I used to enjoy doing that when I was growing up, without worrying about the result. In Hong Kong, there are lots of wet markets with a lot of ingredients that are quite inexpensive. They are good to experiment with.
'And if you're interested in cooking, there's nothing wrong with failing once or twice. Your parents will probably eat it all up for you, anyway.'
For those with a sweet tooth, even sweetness can be healthy. David White, executive pastry chef at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, recommends going for sorbets or chilled fresh fruit. 'Or you can mix the two,' he says.
'Blend a fruit like pineapple, add vanilla for extra flavour, strain and chill it and pour that over fresh berries. It's very quick, tastes great and is good for you. If you want to get more ambitious, try home-made granita, which is a very simple and crunchy sorbet.'
Getting young people to eat more healthily is a pressing need in Hong Kong. Gordon Cheung, a practising clinical dietitian and president of the Hong Kong Nutrition Association (HKNA), says some of these bad dietary habits are having a marked effect. 'The prevalence of [those classified as] overweight and obese among Hong Kong secondary school students rose from 16.4 per cent to 17.7 per cent in the 1997-98 school year to 22.2 per cent in 2008-09,' he says.
Childhood obesity is caused by multiple factors. But there are some major causes, such as physical inactivity and a high energy intake, says Sally Poon Shi-po, a registered dietitian who is also on the HKNA's health promotion subcommittee.
'The traditional Chinese diet is generally high in carbohydrates and low in fat. So Hong Kong children consume less fat than their Western counterparts. But 30 per cent of their energy is derived from total fat. This is higher than that found in a traditional Chinese diet, which is about 14 per cent,' Poon says.
'The main sources of total fat are meat, bread, cakes, milk, eggs, dim sum, fast food and fish. Dim sum is one of the most common food choices for breakfast and lunch.
The total fat, saturated fat and sodium content of some dim sum is relatively high, while calcium and fibre content is low,' she adds.
Poon says that it is the same story for teenagers' favourite snacks - with potato crisps, sweets and chocolates scoring highly in secondary polls.
Both Poon and Cheung note that overweight children are at risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, sleep apnoea and type-2 diabetes.
'Overweight' is defined by the World Health Organisation as having a Body Mass Index (BMI, or weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in metres) greater than or equal to 25, and 'obese' is defined as more than 30.
For children, there are conflicting theories over whether this definition even applies, as they grow at such varying individual speeds.
But overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk for global deaths, says the WHO, so it makes sense to try to avoid entering adulthood bearing either of those two labels.
Steam up, veg out
Five healthy eating tips from chef Vicky Cheng of Liberty Exchange Kitchen & Bar:
1. Eat raw foods; keep cooking to a minimum and enjoy the natural taste of food.
2. Spend a little more money on good-quality olive oil instead of using butter.
3. Steaming doesn't have to be boring; it's a great technique after a good simple marinade.
4. I like to have crunchy cereal instead of chips for snacks.
5. I like instant noodles, but I always add veggies and egg to get more nutrients and make it more interesting.