Can sushi burritos replace chicken and chips in school?

WHEN Anna MacDonald opened the Happy Maki sushi bar, she had a green goal in mind. “I’d watched a documentary called End of the Line,” said the 33-year-old. “It was about overfishing and the way the sushi industry in Japan has affected our oceans.

“I was eating a lot of sushi at the time, so it was pretty hard-hitting.” Six years later, her Brighton restaurant is known across the city for serving delicious vegetarian sushi burritos. Though the Henfield resident hopes to open another sushi bar alongside her Pool Valley store, Anna has her sights set on a more ambitious expansion.

After winning Brighton and Hove Food Partnership’s Veg City Challenge, the Aberdeen-born chef could now have her sushi burritos trialled in Dorothy Stringer and Longhill secondary schools. She wowed judges and Dorothy Stringer pupils at the cook-off in Queen’s Road. “I’m really, really excited,” she said.

“I’d love kids to eat Happy Maki instead of chicken and chips. “It’s something that I have been passionate about for a while. “Jamie Oliver was one of my inspirations ever since he gave a Ted talk about encouraging kids to eat healthier.”

Anna’s “Fully Loaded” teriyaki sushi burrito is stuffed with sweet potato wedges, avocado, red pepper, and imitation chicken made out of soybeans. After it is tested in the two Brighton schools, she hopes her burritos will be served to schoolchildren across the city. “It’s a bit surreal,” she said.

“I read the application for the competition and thought ‘Oh, I actually think I can do this’. “It’s reignited that excitement for me. “You would only find this open-minded approach in Brighton.

“It’s not that kids eat badly because they want to, but the healthy options often aren’t there. “I didn’t try fish until I was 18.” Healthy eating is not just a passion for Anna.

It is something she has spent a long time studying. “I originally studied sports science and public health at Loughborough University,” she said. “But then I started a Master’s in nutrition at King’s College.

“Being on the science side of things never interested me. “I wanted to make healthy, delicious food and combined that with my passion for the environment. “That’s how I got the idea for healthy fishy burritos without any fish.”

Health was one priority for Anna when she founded Happy Maki as a music festival food truck in Hampshire. But she also wanted her food to have a positive impact on the planet. “The statistic that really shocked me was our oceans could be empty by 2050 if we keep going as we are,” Anna said.

“That was pretty hard-hitting when I found that out. “Sixty per cent of the air we breathe comes from the ocean. It’s a source of life for us.

“Sushi is probably my favourite food. “But in Japanese it just means “seasoned rice”. As long as it has a good filling, it’s sushi.”

Time will tell whether Anna’s sushi burritos will out muscle school staples like pizza and sausage rolls. But Chloe Clarke of the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership is hopeful pupils will be encouraged to eat better. “Trends show an increase in demand for vegetarian and vegan food and this is particularly the case within the university,” she said.

“This competition is about increasing the amount of vegetables consumed by teenagers, calling on inspiration from our top local chefs.” Catering expert Julie Barker said the initiative was a”a great example of progressive thinking”. She said: “The quality of recipes put forward were outstanding.

“The initiative is a great example of progressive thinking in making vegetables attractive and appealing to the next generation “Helping schools incorporate veg within their menu planning is an integral ingredient.” Chefs from Brighton Food Factory, Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen, the University of Sussex, Foodini, Higgidy, and Varndean Secondary School competed to win the Veg City Challenge.

Demand is high for veggie-packed food in Brighton.

A survey by Brighton and Hove City Council showed fruit and veg consumption decreases among children from Year 8 to year 11 in Brighton and Hove schools.

But a Brighton and Hove Food Partnership survey revealed almost nine in ten of the city’s residents wanted chefs to include two portions of vegetables in every children’s meal.

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