The lovingly-made laksa, rojak, or icing-laden birthday cake may conjure up comforting childhood memories, but parents should also consider making food memories that are healthy and sustaining, said Dr Chan Tat Hon.

“We don’t just pass down our genes. The palate, habits and food preferences of our children are shaped in large part by us, and this food legacy can be a blessing or a curse,” said the medical doctor and passionate advocate of a healthy lifestyle and diet to prevent and combat chronic lifestyle-related diseases.

Growing up, recalls Dr Chan, “Wanton mee was my top comfort food, as that was how my family celebrated.” With a diet based on popular Singapore cuisine, the self-described “middle-aged, overweight, die-hard foodie medical doctor” had an ever-expanding waistline.

Five years ago, Dr Chan decided to change his dietary habits. Not only did he lose 15kg in six months, his health markers like blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar also saw a dramatic improvement.

“Diet is the single most important factor that determines the number of years we live and how well we live the last 10 years of our life,” noted Dr Chan. Chronic medical conditions are expected to afflict one in two Singaporeans aged over 65 who will spend some four-10 years in a state of severe disability. And almost all Singaporeans will spend the last 10 years of their lives in ill-health, due to chronic medical conditions that are lifestyle- and diet-related.

Dr Chan believes so strongly in walking the talk that he even donned an apron and was at one time a full-time chef at a restaurant he started called “The Bento People”. Today, the patients he sees, as well as his speaking, training and coaching engagements are all centred around helping people to change their lifestyles and dietary habits for better health.

“I meet patients with chronic illnesses who are reluctant to adopt healthy dietary habits, as it is inconvenient, or are reluctant to let go of entrenched eating habits. This shows how our palates can be so hardwired by decades of enjoying traditional foods that we are unable to change course even in the face of a health crisis.”

Celebrating with sugar?

Dr Chan firmly believes that healthy eating starts at home. Parents can be mindful of food choices by asking these questions:

1. What food does your family associate with convenience?
2. What’s comfort food to you?
3. What’s celebration food for you?

As father to a 22-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, it is no surprise that food plays a large part in family life. It has also been five years since the family revamped their eating habits.

Dr Chan and Family
“Today, we explore different dining options based on healthy eating principles, even when on holiday. As a family, we enjoy food that allows us to DIY [do-it-yourself], whether it’s steamboat, making sushi or having popiah together. This allows each family member to incorporate new food choices at their own pace.”

“At the end of the day, our family food legacy is not about recipes, it is about decision and intention, and the willingness to explore new and healthy foods.”

Keen on more insights that produce appetising results? Have a look at what Dr Chan is serving up at his YouTube channel.