Manawatu kindergartens introducing cooking into children's lives early could be giving them a fighting chance against future bulge.
A study by Otago University earlier this year revealed New Zealanders are on the verge of a health crisis. The researchers found one in five adults was showing early signs of developing diabetes - thanks in part to our eating habits.
One Feilding kindergarten is taking on the challenge to educate its small pupils about healthy food as early as possible.
Makino Kindergarten is experimenting with a cooking education programme which it will pass on to other kindergartens around Manawatu.
The kindergarten is also among the first in Manawatu to sign up to the Heart Foundation's Healthy Heart Award, which promotes diet and lifestyle awareness.
Palmerston North catering business owner Hester Guy said many Kiwi parents could not afford healthy food, so educators who took up the challenge to teach kids about nutrition were "brilliant".
"This needs to be treated as an education issue . . . if children garden and cook their own food they learn all the elements they need to have such as literacy and numeracy.
"They learn literacy as they need to read recipes, they learn maths because they have to count, science because they learn how things grow, and geography because they learn where foods come from."
Mrs Guy has been uneasily catering to palates of what she labels a "fast-food culture".
"I feel very strongly about this. What I think is happening is everybody's tastes are changing . . . the taste is becoming far saltier and sweeter and for processed food, and that will have long-term ramifications for us."
The philosophy used by the kindergarten is similar to the Plant to Plate community gardening programme offered free to all primary schools across Manawatu.
For the past two years Makino Kindergarten teacher Marie Morgan has explored how young children learn through cooking.
"I think a lot of the public think we just spend all day playing with children . . . but a lot of thought goes into these things," she said.