The long-term benefits of proper nutrition and its direct link to the development of young minds and bodies are well known. While recent publicity around poverty, empty family fridges and limited school lunches, has highlighted a need, there’s been minimal discussion on the effects at the early childhood age.
At Awapuni Kindergarten, Palmerston North, an holistic approach has been taken to the nourishing of young minds, where a nutrition in early years research pilot programme is currently being conducted by a team including EIT scientist Dr Karen Munday and nutrition specialist and kindergarten mum, Megan Wilson.
On Wednesday morning, 10 September, the researchers, alongside Fonterra representatives and local MP, Ian Lees-Galloway, will be visiting the kindergarten community to discuss their progress.
Awapuni Kindergarten has always had strategies around nutrition, including Te Kakano, their sustainable garden which was officially opened over a year ago. The garden has not only helped to teach the children where their food comes from, how to grow and prepare it for eating, it has directly contributed to the community’s well-being. As well as taking home additional produce home; the children share what they have learned with their families.
It is this holistic approach that also saw the recent addition of a lunchbox policy. “However, we’ve heard that the requirement to bring suitable food to kindergarten has been a deterrent to some families enrolling,” says Head Teacher, Kim Holland. “That’s why we have welcomed the nutrition study. It not only focuses on nurturing our children, it is helping to find ways to nourish our young children and their families.”
The kindergarten now provides each child a daily lunch. From packaged items, or sometimes no items at all, kindergarten children now receive sandwiches, fruit and vegetables (often from the kindergarten’s gardens), and yoghurt courtesy of a research grant from Fonterra.
The research itself, funded by grants provided by the Heart Foundation and the Olive Tree Charitable Trust, includes a parent survey, where food diaries will help identify key concerns and indicate improvements made to diet as the project progresses. Other elements have included cooking classes for kindergarten parents, and Massey University food and nutrition students providing kindergarten tasting sessions, introducing the children to new foods such as taro, pineapple, peas and purple carrots.
A particularly popular activity is using Super Sprowtz material, a New York based children’s education movement that embraces the super powers of fruit and vegetables through entertainment. Awapuni Kindergarten children are readily identifying the powerful attributes their healthy choices create; from Colby Carrot’s super sight, Bryan Broccoli’s super strength, to Erica Eggplant’s super smarts.
Children are rewarded for trying new foods with Have A Go stickers. Ms Holland says that while the stickers are a reward, the environment is such that the children are already making healthier choices, encouraged through the learning opportunities that have been generated and by the older children supporting their younger peers.
Awapuni Kindergarten’s roll currently stands at 30 children, who attend full day sessions. Providing lunches to each child sees an impressive 3kgs of fruit and vegetables consumed each day. “This is a huge success in terms of food behaviour change,” says Miss Holland. “It does however come at a cost.” While Fonterra’s support with yoghurt, milk and cheese products is greatly appreciated, the research’s aim is to find ways to make a similar programme successful long-term, not just for the Awapuni Kindergarten community but throughout New Zealand’s early childhood education sector.