Healthy and well-nourished children are one of our country’s most precious assets but the present climate in which our children are being reared raises some significant concerns for their health.

While we have an abundance of fresh food available to us, more and more families are relying on convenience and processed food to feed their children, putting their short and long term health at risk. At no other time in our lives is food selection more important than during childhood. This is the time when the foundations of our health are laid down, the very building blocks upon which we can build strength and vitality, and eating habits developed during these formative years last a lifetime. Poor nutrition during childhood can lead to poor long-term health and is linked to chronic disease in adulthood.

With this in mind, schools are taking a more active role in nutrition education. It is now recognised that there are many ways in which a school can play a part in enhancing or undermining students’ health. Healthy eating is not inherent but a socially learned skill and schools are a perfect environment for teaching those skills. Developing a student’s ability to make informed food choices and cultivating positive attitudes to eating are excellent aims for a nutrition education program. Consistency of messages throughout the school and collaboration across key learning areas is also vital.

Nutrition education in the primary classroom needs to focus on the positive and enjoyable aspects of eating. I have successfully used many of the following ideas in primary classrooms to get the kids interested and having fun while they learn about good food and health.
•    Hold a healthy breakfast morning in your classroom;
•    Try a cooking activity day – smoothies, vegetable soup, salad rolls, ‘sushi’ sandwiches, dips and veggie sticks, muffins;
•    Create a newspaper or magazine advertisement and have the children select a favourite fruit or vegetable and write a catchy slogan;
•    Lay out possible ‘brain power’ breakfast items such as a bag of oats, some eggs, bread, milk, fruit, yoghurt etc on a table and in turn have the children make a selection of what they could have for breakfast. Try this with lunchboxes too;
•    Test their sense of smell. Put a strong smelling cut piece of fruit or vegetable such as passionfruit, banana, mandarin, onion, ginger or mushroom into a paper bag. Blindfold the students in turn;
•    Do the same with taste and hold ‘blind’ taste tests;
•    Let them mime. Lay out ingredients on a table and provide step by step instructions on making a simple breakfast such as porridge, a banana smoothie or scrambled eggs. Have them mime the cooking activity and the rest of the class to guess;
•    Play ‘Who am I?’ with various fruits, vegetables etc;
•    Play ‘guess the odd one out’ and line up items of healthy food with an unhealthy one thrown in. Or try it with the food groups or natural foods and processed foods;
•    Using paper plates and magazine cut outs have the children prepare a healthy meal on a plate;
•    Have senior students plan a menu for a staff or parent luncheon and then have them cook it for them;
•    Bring in unusual fruits and vegetables, such as rambutans, figs, radishes etc for the children to look at, touch, discuss and even taste;
•    Make a fruit and vegetable alphabet with either real food or magazine cut outs;
•    Have a healthy recipe competition where the children bring in their favourite family recipe. Perhaps the class could cook it too.;
•    Celebrate cultural days where children dress up and bring / cook food from different cultures. Have them source recipes and products from other cultures; and
•    Have an excursion to a farm, market garden or market.
There are so many ways to help improve children’s attitudes to food and these activities are just the beginning. However a consolidated and consistent approach to nutrition education is vital if we are to have any influence on the health of our children, now and in their future.

Jacqui Deighan runs her Let’s Talk About Real Food programs in primary schools throughout metropolitan Melbourne. To find out more go to www.naturalkitchenstrategies.com.au or call (03) 9500 8003.