Kitchen gardens at schools around Australia are teaching children the joys of eating healthy, seasonal food. All Images: Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.
THE WA School Canteen Association Inc. (WASCA) and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation are working with schools to encourage a whole-school approach to nutritious eating.
The aim –to help students develop positive food habits for life.
Part of that whole-school approach means teaching children the joys of growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing fresh, seasonal delicious food through a kitchen garden program.
The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation is now working with more than 1600 schools and centres across Australia running a kitchen garden program.
In a kitchen garden program, children actively grow and harvest their own vegetables, herbs and fruit and, alongside their peers and adult helpers, prepare seasonal dishes with care and a focus on deliciousness.
Everyone then sits down together to enjoy and share tastes of the dishes they’ve made.
When they participate in a kitchen garden program, children are fully engaged in growing and cooking food.
They understand where their food comes from, and learn the skills they need to feed themselves well.
In the process, they make links to learning areas in the curriculum and understand more about the environment, sustainability and other cultures.
An evaluation of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, by Deakin University and the University of Melbourne, demonstrated that the program encouraged positive health behaviour change in participating children.
The evaluation also showcased the transfer of benefits to the home and the broader community.
School canteens also have an important role to play in promoting healthy eating to the school community.
WASCA supports schools to implement the Department of Education’s Healthy Food and Drink policy (HFD policy), first launched in 2007.
A whole-school approach in this sense relates to the link between the canteen and what is taught in the classroom.
The HFD policy is based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and a traffic light system of categorising foods. Common canteen items include:
Green: Fill the menu – minimum 60% of foods such as sandwiches, wraps, sushi, frittata, rice paper rolls, vegetable curry, fruit salad, water and reduced fat dairy.
Amber: Select carefully – maximum 40% of foods such as fruit muffins, full fat dairy, 99% fruit juice.
Red: Off the menu in WA schools, e.g. soft drink, chocolate, deep fried food.
According to Megan Sauzier, Executive Officer at WASCA, a recent evaluation to assess current levels of awareness and compliance in schools a decade after the introduction of the policy has revealed positive results. For example:
While both the HFD Policy and kitchen garden programs work well in schools, the most encouraging evidence comes from schools where there is a strong collaborative approach between the kitchen garden, classroom and canteen.
Top tips for linking a kitchen garden and canteen:
Margaret River Primary School, WA
The journey towards a healthier canteen and school environment at Margaret River Primary began in 2014.
A passionate group of parents voiced their concerns regarding some discrepancies in what was being taught in the classrooms about nutritious eating, particularly in the school’s kitchen garden program, and what was being offered at the school canteen (mainly amber items).
Vasse Primary School, WA
Vasse Primary School has connected its kitchen garden and canteen to provide fresh, seasonal produce for use in snacks and school meals.
The school’s canteen has a set menu which uses produce from the garden, as well as specials which are based on surplus produce. Menu items include salads, broccoli quiche, spaghetti bolognese featuring veggies and herbs, and veggie and fruit sticks for snacks.
The school became a Kitchen Garden Classroom member, through the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, and used the Foundation’s resources to help link the garden and canteen.
For more information, go to www.waschoolcanteens.org.au and www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au